As Cork’s minor hurlers open their inter-county championship season against Clare this Saturday in Thurles, Noel Horgan looks back on the careers of some of the most exciting talents ever to emerge from the ranks in hurling.
NOT all exceptional minor hurlers go on to realise their potential in the top flight, but some do.
Brian Corcoran most certainly did, picking up the hurler-of-the-year award in his first championship campaign at senior level with Cork in 1992. He had spent four seasons with the Cork minors prior to that, lining out at midfield on the team beaten by Kilkenny in the 1988 decider.
Cork again filled the runners-up slot behind Kilkenny in 1990 when two games were needed to produce a conclusive result in the final.
Majestic at centre-back in the drawn match, injury prevented Corcoran from starting in the replay, which obviously had a significant bearing on the outcome.
His protracted quest for an All-Ireland minor hurling medal ended in failure as Cork didn’t retain the Munster title in 1991.
Despite making a smooth transition to senior ranks, Corcoran had to wait until 1999 to collect his first All-Ireland medal, but he won two more after coming out of retirement to fill the full-forward berth in 2004 and 2005.
Chosen as hurler-of-the-year for a second time in 1999, the great Erins Own clubman was thrice-honoured as an All-Star during the course of a hurling career in which the ultimate accolade eluded him at both minor and U21 level.
It was a different story for another prodigious under-age talent, John Buckley of Newtownshandrum.
He’s the holder of three All-Ireland minor medals, a distinction he shares with the legendary Jimmy Doyle of Tipperary.
Buckley came on as a substitute when Cork lifted the minor crown at Kilkenny’s expense in the 1969 final, and he was an inspirational centre-back when the three-in-a-row was completed two years later.
The player who captained Cork to success in Munster in 1971 was Seamus Coughlan of Nemo Rangers, but his rather harsh omission from the starting 15 for the All-Ireland final allowed the long-serving Buckley to lead the team to victory over Kilkenny.
After tasting All-Ireland U-21 glory in 1973, Buckley made a quick step up to senior, winning a National League medal in 1974, but, for one reason or another, his involvement with Cork at the top level was short-lived.
Cloyne’s Donal Clifford won an All-Ireland minor medal in 1964, lining out at wing-forward in an attack that ran up a massive score, 10-7, against Laois in the final.
Chasing a second medal in 1966, Clifford was at midfield when Cork drew with Wexford before going under by two points, 4-1 to 1-8, in the replay.
While his unavailability due to suspension for the second game was a major handicap for Cork, another key factor in Wexford’s triumph was the display from their corner-back John Quigley.
Quigley had played well in the drawn match, but his over-the-top aggression was noted in some match reports the following day, which was most unusual for a minor game.
The criticism didn’t go unheeded as Quigley, adopting a completely different attitude, excelled in the replay, so much so that it’s doubtful if a corner-back has ever influenced the outcome of an All-Ireland final in any grade to the same extent.
Donal Clifford was also involved with the Cork U-21 team in 1966 when Wexford were defeated in the final at the third attempt, but he didn’t feature in either of the replays, having been sent off in the first game.
He went on to win two U21 medals on the field of play, however, before the highlight of his relatively short inter-county career in senior ranks arrived in 1970 when Cork, with Clifford filling the right-wing back slot, completed a league-championship double.
Some other players to spend three years involved with the Cork minors were Charlie McCarthy of St Finbarr’s, John Horgan of Passage, Na Piarsaigh’s Tony O’Sullivan, Glen Rovers’ Pat Horgan, Cloyne’s Paddy Ring, and Blackrock’s Finbarr Delaney and Pat Kavanagh.
‘Small’ Charlie, a prolific goal-getter, won an All-Ireland medal at the third attempt in 1964 before graduating to the senior squad the following year where he remained until 1980, having enjoyed a glittering career, highlighted by his captaincy of the three-in-a-row team in 1978, in the interim
John Horgan was at centre-back when Cork went all the way in 1967, beating Wexford in the final, but he endured the disappointment of losing to the Slaneysiders in the 1966 and 1968 deciders.
After transferring to Blackrock, the lion-hearted defender enjoyed huge success at senior level, garnering every major honour in the game, including four All-Ireland medals and the hurler-of-the-year award in 1978.
Tony O’Sullivan, hurler-of-the-year in 1990, likewise achieved it all in the top flight following his three-year stint with the Cork minors, which yielded an All-Ireland medal in 1979.
Just 19 when making his debut with the seniors in 1982, he was chosen as an All-Star that year, gaining similar recognition in 1986, 1990 and 1992.
A silken-skilled attacker, O’Sullivan, in his last year eligible for minor duty, won an All-Ireland medal in football in 1981.
Pat Horgan, at 16, shared in Cork’s All-Ireland minor triumph in 1974, he won an U21 medal in 1976, but the Rebels failed to reach the summit when he was a regular on the senior side - winning two All-Stars at centre-forward - between 1980 and 1983.
Finbarr Delaney won an All-Ireland medal in his third year as a minor in 1974, but it was another fifteen years before he graduated to senior ranks, lining out in attack on a Cork team - rated by many as one of the weakest ever to represent the county - beaten by Waterford in a Munster semi-final replay in 1989.
Neither Paddy Ring nor Pat Kavanagh played senior championship with Cork in hurling, but both were outstanding minors, with Ring winning an All-Ireland medal in 1967 and Kavanagh winning his second when captaining the team to victory over Galway in 1970.
Along with Kavanagh, and John Buckley, others to collect a second All-Ireland minor medal in 1970 were future senior stars Martin O’Doherty of Glen Rovers, Youghal’s Seanie O’Leary and Newcestown’s Tim Crowley, along with Bandon’s Noel Crowley, Shamrocks’ Ger Hanley, Midleton’s Seamus O’Farrell and Mallow’s Tommy Sheehan.
All of which suggests the 1969 Cork minor side was probably the youngest ever to lift the top prize in that grade.