MIDFIELDER Brian Hartnett believes that the success of the Cork U20 side has been based on a unity developed over the course of the year.
None of the Rebels that will be in action in Saturday’s All-Ireland final against Dublin have won a Munster minor medal, with Kerry having taken the provincial honours over the past seven years.
With manager Keith Ricken a late appointment, few would have expected Cork to challenge in 2019, but Douglas native Hartnett points to a singular focus cultivated from the start.
‘The group has got a lot closer as the year has gone on and we’re all very good friends,’ he says
‘Aside from training, we’d be meeting up on our off-days too. We’re a very close group, I think Keith inspired us to become close.
‘At the start of the year, we had to go around and introduce ourselves, say our name, club, likes, dislikes, dogs, sisters, brothers. He really made get close together and that really brought us on.
‘Since then, we haven’t really looked back.’
The John Kerins Cup, where Cork faced Kerry, Kildare, Dublin and Galway, was an important building block.
‘It was fantastic,’ Hartnett says, ‘you’re playing top opposition the whole time.
‘It’s a great standard and it’s really competitive as well. We had a huge panel and everybody was able to get a fair crack of the whip.
‘We used up a lot of numbers and it was a great competition to see what the other teams had. Then, by the championship, you know what to expect.’
Cork drew with Kerry in Clonakilty in their opening John Kerins game in May, but in last month’s Munster final they powered to a 3-16 to 0-12 win in Páirc Uí Rinn.
‘I think we progressed a lot after the first Kerry game,’ Hartnett says.
‘We got a lot more confident in what we could do. We had Damo [Damien Gore] coming back from the senior team and Colm [O’Callaghan] came back from the cruciate very well. Then, obviously, the Leaving Certs, Éanna [O’Hanlon] and Fionn [Herlihy] were great to have coming off the bench.
‘Kerry was one of those games where everything goes right for you on the day. You’re looking at Cathal [O’Mahony] kicking balls over the bar from the sideline and [goalkeeper] Josh [O’Keeffe] making catches over the bar.
‘The blocking and tackling was unreal as well, that kind of went under the radar.’
After such a good performance, Cork began well against Tyrone in the first half of last weekend’s semi-final, Mark Cronin getting an early goal, but by half-time the Red Hands were 1-10 to 1-6 ahead. Cork didn’t panic though and ate into the lead before Jack Murphy’s all-important goal helped to emphatically turn the tide.
‘I think we were disappointed going in at half-time,’ Hartnett says.
‘We had had a good start but then they clawed us back and got a soft goal, really
‘It was disappointing to have let them in with a four-point lead but Keith had a great talk with us at half-time. We knew we were able to dog it out in the second half and once we got a run on them, I felt the crowd really kept us going.
‘We kept the scores ticking and Jack’s goal was unreal then.’
Hartnett credits Ricken with incredible man-management skills and he feels that the half-time pep talk was perfectly framed.
‘He just told us that he had never been as proud of a bunch of players,’ he says.
‘We just needed to go out and show what we could do and release the shackles and play the football like we knew we could and like we had against Kerry.
‘We needed to play not to lose but to play to win.’
More of the same on Saturday would do just fine.