00:00 Saturday 16 June 2012  Written by KIERAN McCARTHY

Cork boss suggests a change of format

CORK U21 hurling manager has urged the powers that be to look into the possibility of changing the U21 championship structure, suggesting a Champions-League style format.

With no back-door system in the U21 grade, unlike both senior and minor levels, Cork's agonising one-point loss (0-18 to 0-17) to Tipperary in the Munster U21 semi-final last ended their interest in the championship, after just one game.

'It's certainly an issue. If you view the under-21 championship as an opportunity to develop your players, having only one game is certainly an issue. Maybe it could be looked at,' Midleton man Fitzgerald said.

'In balance you have to take into account that those players play an awful lot of games. I'm not sure what can be done. Maybe some sort of a round-robin scenario might work but it would want to be properly structured.

'There are only about eight or ten teams that play in the competition, so maybe if you had four or five teams in a group, then semi-finals and a final, it might work. It's an idea worth talking about. 'But we know what we are facing into at the start of the year so we can have no complaints.'

One of the big benefits of changing the U21 structure to a group format and subsequent knock-out would be to allow players more games to improve, according to Fitzgerald.

'We have a lot of positives to take from the game against Tipp. But the one disappointing thing is that you know going into a game that you can win or lose, but it's when you are defeated you also lose the opportunity to develop the young fellas further and give them a chance to improve and garner experience,' the Cork U21 boss said.

'We are in the position where we can't afford to lose those opportunities. I know that Cork's underage record, in general, has been poor over the last few years. But the more opportunities that we can provide our players to develop is very important.'

While U21's Jamie Coughlan, Conor Lehane and Damien Cahalane have all played Allianz Hurling League with the Cork seniors this year, Fitzgerald agrees that the U21s are producing players for the seniors, acting as a conveyor belt.

Missing out

But Cork haven't won a Munster U21 hurling title since '07, meaning that players are missing out on that priceless winning mentality at inter-county level.

'If you view the U21s as a mechanism to produce players for the senior team, we are still doing that, certainly. But you'd like to be producing teams that are winning as well. It's a two-way thing,' Fitzgerald said.

'We are certainly producing players that are moving on but you would produce better players if you were involved in these competitions for longer.

'What you do see, to be fair, is that other counties that are successful - bar the Kilkennys, Tipperarys and so on - are not really turning out super senior teams either.

'You can't buy a winning mentality so it's important to nurture that as much as you can.'

Another area of concern for Fitzgerald is what happens to this year's U21s who are overage next year and have not yet progressed to senior level. It's another issue that needs to be addressed.

'Some of our players move out of the U21 level this year and there's not really a home for them, in terms of an inter-county structure,' he said.

'We may need to look at how we run the intermediate team as well, in terms of the profile of the players that are picked at the grade as well. The next step up along the inter-county ladder is an issue.'

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