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Sunday 25 February 2018

They did us proud all season and in final

Brian Turnbull of Cork dejected after theAll-Ireland Minor Championship Final between Galway and Cork at Croke Park
Brian Turnbull of Cork dejected after theAll-Ireland Minor Championship Final between Galway and Cork at Croke Park

Diarmuid Sheehan

Galway are All Ireland Minor Hurling champions for 2017 and to be fair to them it is hard to begrudge them their title.

Galway came into the All-Ireland final full of confidence with a good campaign behind them and, while Cork can credibly argue they had every bit as impressive a season, it is hard to ignore that Galway might well have had their name on the trophy from a long way out.

All Ireland Hurling final day is something special. The colour, the sounds and the expectation that surrounds this annual event is hardly matched anywhere in the world and when you are fortunate enough to be there it really is difficult not to get caught up in what is going on.

Cork made the minor final last Sunday on merit and would have been reasonably confident going into the game that they had all the attributes that were required to take the spoils.

After seeing off Tipperary in Munster before hammering Clare in the provincial final Cork took on the Dubs in Croke Park in the last four and while that wasn't the most impressive display it is fair to say that a win is a win is a win.

The final brought together two of the best young teams in the country and, while it was always going to play second fiddle to the senior game, there were plenty people that felt this one would go all the way.

And how right those people were as Galway and Cork battled all the way to the finish in a game that will live long in the memory of those interested enough to go in early and see it.

Cork had this game - perhaps not in the bag - but they had it. Cork got the start all teams dream about but they were just unable to hold on. Their defensive was solid early on however when Jack Canning and Co got their hands on the ball and their eye on the target they turned this game around in what could be described as a blink of an eye.

Cork were hugely impressive in the early stages and after 10 or 15 minutes one couldn't have predicted anything other than a Cork win - that said minor hurling is over 60-65 minutes long and after 30 minutes this one was back in the melting pot.

When Cork were good they were really good with the likes of James Keating at centre back, Brian Turnbull in the corner and Evan Sheehan in the other corner all impressing however the fitness of both Turnbull and Sheehan was always likely to be a major factor here.

Both players were serious doubts heading into this game and neither could reasonably have been expected to play a week or so out but thanks to some brilliant off field attention the pair lined up (plenty strapping on both) to give their team mates and fans a lift.

Less than 10 seconds after the ball was thrown in the fans were already singing Turnbull's praises with Sheehan getting all the attention soon after when he finished to the net from a tight angle. The call made to include both players at less than 100% fitness seemed to be paying off - at least in the early stages.

Cork Captain Sean O'Leary Hayes held court as one would expect from the on field leader of this current crop and with the likes of Conor O'Callaghan and Eoin Roche by his side it was always likely to be a strong, robust defence - that said, both sides will feel that the goals scored could have been defended a little better and to be fair both sides would be right, however, Sheehan's strike was pure class, while Canning's ability in front of goal is something that will torment hurling defences for the next decade or so.

It really is difficult to describe just what the difference would have been like for Cork's young guns to play in such a big game without a big support behind them. Cork had up to 10,000 supporters when the beat Tipp, a massive 40,000 plus when the saw off Clare and another huge backing when they squeezed past Dublin, but last Sunday they had a small, granted it was dedicated, backing dispersed around the massive venue.

The lack of a major vocal support was always likely to have an impact on a young side, but early on it seemed like it wouldn't matter. However, when the crowd started to come in for the senior game the young Galway lads seemed to be able to feed off their support.

When this game turned before the break Cork lost the middle third. John Fleming and Conor Fahy did very well against Cork's Daire Connery and Diarmuid Linehan. Connery performed again but only managed to score a point from play - the same man bagged five points during a brilliant display in the semi-final.

Cork may have lost the middle third for long periods of the second half they were cleaned out at the back for sustained periods when Canning and Donal Mannion got going. Sean Bleahene also showed really well for the new All Ireland Minor Champions as Cork's defensive pack scrambled to keep them at bay.

Cork's young Rebels should be really proud of what they achieved. They got to an All Ireland final when most sane people would have stayed clear of backing any Cork hurling team at the start of the season. They created a buzz around the county and along with the seniors they gave us a summer to remember.

Cork hurling really is on the up. The kids are coming through, the adults have got their mojo back and the fans are flocking through the doors. Standing in Croke Park last Sunday watching the youngsters falling to their knees was hard but when the dust settles and all around them put the belief back in the youngsters. Cork hurling may well be heading into another long awaited golden period.

Cork unearthed some wonderful talent at underage this year at minor, align that with the achievements of the Under 17s and a senior side on the rise and all roads lead to the wonderful new Pairc Uí Chaoimh. 2018 can't come quick enough.

The Canning Factor

It was a day for the Cannings. Right from the moment nephew Jack Canning raised the first green flag to the moment his uncle Joe got his hands on Liam McCarthy it was all about the Cannings.

Jack Canning is a sensational talent, that all going well for him and his county, will go on to have a great career and last Sunday he gave the Cork minor hurlers a schooling in what he can do.

Jack bagged 2-2 on a day when his side needed his talent to shine and shine it did. Canning's ability under the high ball, with the ball in hand and in front of goal is top-class and while it is inevitable that comparisons will be made between Jack and All Ireland winner Joe, it is clear that Jack will be another name to excite hurling fans for many years to come.

The Fightback

Often what happens in situations like last Sunday is one team gets the jump on the other and that is it. The game can be over before it begins. This is especially the case for minors and other underage grades as often the heads can drop before the towel deserves to be thrown in.

Last Sunday Cork got the jump on Galway but despite all the talent and expectation surrounding this Rebel side, this Galway side showed they had plenty bottle. Galway's heads never dropped, they battled through some really tough periods of the game and came out the other side inspired. This win was all about them and little really to do with Cork.

The Vanquished

It is hard to be tough on Cork for last Sunday's display. They hit the ground running, put it up to Galway in the best way they could and for more than half of the game they were the side to beat. The loss was of course difficult for all in the camp to accept and get to grips with but that in no way should take away from their achievements this year.

The early successes showed just what this team could do while the games in Croker showed some frailties, however, all that said, the season overall can only be described as a success.

Cork will be back, and while the grade changes going forward there is little doubt that next season the Rebel County will be stronger for their exploits this year.

Corkman

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