Wednesday 21 March 2018

Rebels now two ahead of Kerry in junior roll of honour

Noel Horgan

WITH the bulk of the last year's squad on board, it was no major surprise that Cork retained the Munster Under 21 football crown in 2013.

They faced a difficult opening assignment at Pairc Uí Rinn, however, against a Kerry side that also contained several survivors from the team which had succumbed by a point after extra-time in last season's provincial decider.

Again Cork finished just a point to the good, 0-14 to 2-7, but they were full value for their win, and but for the concession of two goals against the run of the play in the second quarter, they would have ran out comfortable victors.

As it was, they went in at the break on level terms, with Brian Hurley and Dan McEoin very much to the fore up front in the first half, and they reasserted their authority in the second half before Kerry staged a late rally, forcing Cork to rely on last-gasp point from substitute Sean Kiely of Ballincollig to secure the laurels.

As expected, Cork made light work of dispatching Limerick, 2-14 to 0-11, in the Munster semi final at the Gaelic Grounds to qualify for a showdown with Tipperary on their home patch in Thurles.

Tipp, All-Ireland minor champions in 2011, deserved to be treated with the utmost respect, and they competed well in the first half, at the end of which they led by a point, but Cork came up with most of the answers in the second half, and, aided by a goal from Bandon's Mark Sugrue, they romped home by 1-14 to 0-7.

It gave Cork an eighth provincial title in ten seasons, with such as Castlehaven's Damien Cahalane, Kilbrittains' Jamie Wall, Clonakilty's Tom Clancy, Nemo Rangers' Alan Cronin and Carbery Rangers' John O'Rourke picking up a third medal at this level.

In the wake of All-Ireland semi final defeats by Galway and Dublin in 2011 and 2012 respectively, it proved to be a case of third time lucky for Cork when they made further progress at Cavan's expense next time out in Tullamore.

They appeared to be on course for a comfortable win when they led by six points coming down the home stretch, but Cavan staged a gutsy comeback to gain parity, and Cork needed a little rub of the green to prevail in the end.

The decisive score was kicked by Dan McEoin from a needlessly-conceded free, while Cavan failed to avail of a similar chance to force extra-time in the dying seconds. Still, Cork looked the better team for longer, with such as McEoin, Brian Hurley, Luke Connolly of Nemo Rangers and especially Mark Sugrue impressing in attack, and Tadgh MacCarthaigh's Brian O'Driscoll, who scored two points from wing back, also contributing generously to a 0-15 to 1-11 win.

Cork were denied the top prize in the final, however, and they could have no complaints about their fate against Galway, chasing a second title in three seasons, at the Gaelic Grounds. Forced to play second fiddle for much of the game, Cork trailed by nine points midway through the second half before senior star Brian Hurley – who scored 1-4 and had a hand in the majority of the Rebels' fruitful raids over the hour – almost singlehandedly brought them back into contention.

Not even Hurley's wizardry was enough to save the day, as Galway held out for a merited 1-14 to 1-11 victory. The game marked the end of an era in that John Cleary stepped down as team boss, having spent ten years with the Under 21s, serving as a selector on the 2007 All-Ireland winning side before steering Cork back to the top in his second season at the helm in 2009.

The Cork juniors went all the way in 2013, clocking up decisive wins over Limerick, Clare and Waterford in Munster, and over Lancashire in the All-Ireland semi final, before shading the issue against Kildare in the decider.

It seemed as if they were going to have things easy enough too against Kildare when they led by six points at half time, but the complexion of the game changed dramatically after Cork conceded a goal in the 37th. minute.

Having been hauled back to equality, however, Cork regained their composure in the last ten minutes when Iveleary's Cathal Vaughan, team skipper Ruairi Deane of Bantry Blues, and Kevin O'Driscoll of Tadgh MacCarthaigh shared a hat-trick of points that made it 0-13 to 1-7 at the finish.

O'Driscoll, his brother Colm, Macroom's Eoin O'Mahony and Sean Kiely, Bantry Blues Kevin Harrington, Kiskeam's AJ O'Connor, Kildorrery's Andrew O'Brien and Valley Rovers' Fiachra Lynch were all winning a second medal at this level while Kinsale's Richard O'Sullivan had previously tasted All-Ireland junior glory in 2009 and 2011.

It meant the team, coached by Paul McCarthy of Kinsale, possessed a wealth of experience, and it was unquestionably a factor in enabling them to get back on course when the pressure reached its zenith in the final.

Former senior Lynch and the up-and-coming Micheal O'Laoire of Iveleary vied for the man-of-the-match rating during the win over Kildare which gave Cork a 17th. title at this level, allowing them to move two ahead of Kerry on the Roll of Honour.

It was a frustrating year for Cork in minor football, as, after beating Kerry in a replay, they were edged out, 0-11 to 0-8, in the Munster semi final by a Tipperary side that later went under to the Kingdom in the decider at Killarney.