Sunday 25 August 2019

Cork football back on the march

Cork football is really on the up this year as last Saturday's famous victory proved

Cork celebrate after the EirGrid GAA Football All-Ireland U20 Championship Final
Cork celebrate after the EirGrid GAA Football All-Ireland U20 Championship Final

Diarmuid Sheehan

Cork football is on the march, and if you don't believe me just look at what the U20 footballers achieved in Portlaoise last Saturday afternoon.

After getting the most ridiculously poor start imaginable (down by nine inside a quarter of an hour) the young Rebels fought back in spectacular style to secure their first All-Ireland title since 2009.

Last weekend's victory came after a brilliant performance against Kerry, a wonderful comeback against Tyrone and in O'Moore Park they fought back from nine down to beat the biggest of big guns by eight points - a monumental turnaround by anyone's standards.

Cork's players showed many things on this day. They have an eye for goal, an ability to score from almost anywhere. A belief in themselves and their cause and a willingness to put in the hard work both on and off the field.

All season, Cork's players were not daunted one bit by the jersey that stood opposite them - be it the Tyrone, the Kerry or even the Dublin jersey. They showed an ability to play the game at a level far superior to the best in the land and showed a hunger that just wouldn't quit.

Last Saturday's win came because Cork were able to fight back - it was a win because they were not willing to lie down and accept what may presumed was their fate. Cork were never beaten, they never panicked and they stuck to the plan - even when that plan meant they were routed early on by a Dublin side that after twelve minutes must have been questioning how their opponents had got that far in the first place.

It was a win secured by the players on the pitch and the management on the line. We are often quick to blame managers when things go wrong but on this occasion Keith Ricken has managed to bring through a hugely impressive bunch of young man and not only get them to an All-Ireland Final, but he got them over the line - something that far too many Cork managers in recent times have failed to do - great credit due to the St Vincent's man.

Last weekend Cork showed a genuine scoring treat that can often be lacking in the blood and bandage. The three goals will obviously grab the headlines but it should be the manner at which Cork were able to make the opportunities to score goals that counts for more.

Cork were also clinical when shooting for points - 16 points is nothing to be sniffed at, particularly when playing in a national final against the favourites.

This game last weekend has brought a whole new generation of Cork footballer into the public consciousness and there will be plenty expectations going forward that we may be heading into something of a revival for the game on Lee-side but there is a long way to go before any of these young men climb the steps in Croker to collect the Sam Maguire.

Players like Josh O'Keeffe from Newmarket, Michael Mahoney of Knocknagree, Paul Ring from Aghabullogue and Sean Meehan from Kiskeam had a huge influence on Cork's defensive set last weekend and show that there is plenty strength in depth in the Duhallow area.

Kanturk's Daniel O'Connell and Cathal O'Mahony from Mitchelstown) are another pairing from north of the county that did well and have bright futures ahead while Damien Gore's four points will have had all at Kilmacabea singing from the rooftops. Some splendid displays from very talented young men.

So, what does this win actually mean to Cork football? Well, as always, only time will tell but it definitely is another step in the right direction. Cork have had a torrid time of it in recent years but since the middle of this 2019 season we began to see something of a shift in fortunes as this proud sporting county look to secure a place as one of the most feared counties in the land.

2009 was the last time Cork won this competition (the Under 21s at the time) and the following year they secured the All Ireland senior crown - and while I am not suggesting that kind of success is guaranteed (of course it isn't) Cork do now have a host of young blood that can be brought through to help the senior quest for at first a Munster crown and maybe then a genuine, credible, tilt at national success.

Until that happens, Cork's young footballers will head back to their clubs with an All-Ireland medal in tow and the best wishes of a success starved football support settling nicely on their young shoulders.

There will be a renewed focus on the All Ireland winners in the club championship and all eyes will likely be on Ronan McCarthy in 2020 to see just how many of the young stars get their chance to shine for the senior side - finally, exciting times ahead for Cork football.