Saturday 23 February 2019

Under Kerry's thumb again at underage level in the province

Sports Review of the Year

Cork went into the first Munster Under 20 championship earlier in 2018 looking to wrestle back some sort of control from Kerry at the most senior of the underage grades.

2017 had seen Cork make it to the provincial Under 21 final only to be annihilated by the Kingdom by all of 16 points in the showpiece game so with the regrade back to Under 20 there were hopes that promising former minor players might help bridge the gap that seems to have opened between the two counties.

First up for cork was a Munster quarter-final against a Tipperary side featuring some senior stars as well as some very credible players just out of minor. This one was scheduled to be a tough one for Cork however a mixture of home advantage and 65 minutes of class saw the young Rebels progress by fifteen points to the last four where they were again drawn at home, this time to Clare.

This was a much tighter affair than the previous encounter had been but still Cork prevailed - this time by just four points but on the night the game was much closer than the score line would suggest with Cork having to dig deep to take the spoils from an improving Clare Under 20s.

Cork went into the Munster final against the most familiar of foes, Kerry, looking to put an end to a baron period for Cork football.

The nearest and dearest of neighbours have been serving up defeat after defeat at all grades in recent times and many in Cork felt that this particular Cork team had a shout heading to Austin Stack Park and how right they were as Cork really did put it up to Kerry.

Cork led early on and were on level terms as the sides headed for the break 1-6 to 0-9, however, a pair of well-timed goals in the second half put Kerry in control and was enough to see them advance to the All-Ireland series, while for Cork more time to contemplate where to go next.

At minor football Cork took to the pitch against Waterford in Páirc Uí Rinn looking to set down a marker for all the other sides to take note of in the 2018 Munster Football championship - and true to what the formbook had predicted Cork served up a lesson to the Déise winning out on a massive margin of 27 points. The win showed that this particular bunch of Cork stars were ready and able to take on what the best of the rest were going to serve up.

The draw saw Cork set to play Kerry in the round of last four and while the Kingdom really are the powerhouses at this grade over the years Cork went into this one with plenty to be optimistic about.

A ding dong battle from the first to the final whistle saw Kerry just edge it at the end 1-11 to 1-10, however, this would be as close as the Rebels would get at any grade to the neighbours - lost on the score-line but won nearly everywhere else.

Cork's underage stars showed this year that the gap at senior doesn't translate down the age groups and Cork may well be closing the gap on a Kerry culture that up to now has been dominating Munster football.