BY GER McCARTHY
CORK U21 inter-county boss Sean Hayes is hoping his West Cork contingent can help inspire Cork to overcome Limerick in their Munster championship quarter-final next Wednesday evening.
The Rebels begin the defence of a provincial title that has not strayed beyond the county bounds since 2011 with a difficult trip to the Gaelic Grounds and hoping for a repeat of last year’s semi-final performance against the same opposition.
Cork ran out convincing 3-15 to 0-8 winners at Páirc Uí Rinn highlighted by Dan MacEoin, Alan Cadogan and Mark Sugrue goals before seeing off Tipperary in the Munster decider.
Hayes is taking nothing for granted ahead of the opening defence of Cork’s title however, citing Limerick’s decision to merge their U21 and senior squads for pre-season training as a sign their opponents deserve the utmost respect.
‘To be honest with you, the biggest fear coming into a game like this can be overconfidence,’ commented Hayes to The Southern Star.
‘It’s all about getting ready for the battle ahead as we get closer to the game. Limerick’s U21 panel have been training with the county’s senior squad this year. I would expect them to be better prepared because of that so we must make sure we are ready to meet that challenge.’
Tadhg MacCarthaigh’s Brian O’Driscoll will captain the Cork U21s this year and he along with a number of other West Cork players will be crucial to Hayes’ squad’s chances of success.
‘Brian O’Driscoll is a very experienced player and, of course, will hugely important to us as our captain this year as well,’ said Hayes.
‘Unfortunately, he pulled his hamstring whilst playing in the Sigerson Cup final and also has a U21 championship match with his club Tadgh MacCarthaigh this coming weekend so we are hoping he comes through that okay.
‘He is anxious to play for his club and I totally understand and respect that decision. Brian suffered the same injury around the same time last year so that is the fear and worry from my side, that he will be fit for our game against Limerick. If he is available then that will be a big boost for us as he is such a great footballer.’
Clonakilty’s Sean White and Carbery Rangers’ Thomas O’Rourke are two other Carbery players mentioned by Hayes as vital members of the Cork U21 panel.
‘Both of those lads are central to our plans with Sean having featured at centre back last year,’ noted Hayes.
‘Since then, Thomas played in a county senior football final for Carbery Rangers and Clonakilty’s Sean (White) featured in the recent Sigerson Cup so their experience will be vital heading into this year’s U21 championship. We also have O’Donovan Rossa’s Kevin Davis pushing to get into the team so West Cork will be well represented.’
The difficulty in preparing an inter-county squad is made even more tricky at this time of the year considering the number of divisional U21 championships already underway or, in Carbery’s case, starting the weekend before the Limerick clash.
‘The club championships certainly cut across our preparations, not to mention the U21 hurling as well,’ noted Cork’s U21 manager.
‘There is also (college) fresher football and hurling going on with some of our lads involved with UCC and UL so it is difficult to keep everyone together coming up to the first round of the championship. It’s part of the challenge and we just get on with it.
‘We played a few challenge games which is important but we haven’t had a chance to put out our full squad yet.
‘The flip side is that playing those challenge games has given an opportunity for some of our fringe players to stake a claim for a place on the team. Some individuals have taken advantage of it and that is a big positive for us.
‘We must face Limerick’s challenge head-on and not look beyond this match because there is no back door. We are treating this as our most important game of the year because we are gone if we lose.
Munster U21 FC
Wednesday, March 11th
Munster U21 football championship quarter-final
Limerick v Cork
Venue: Gaelic Grounds
Throw in: 7.30pm
3 to watch
Cork U21 captain and Tadhg MacCarthaigh stalwart, O’Driscoll has featured for Brian Cuthbert’s senior side during this season’s McGrath Cup and Allianz National League. Fitness permitting, the UCC Sigerson Cup player will be a pivotal member of Sean Hayes’ side’s attempt to win a fifth consecutive Munster title.
Sean White is another UCC Sigerson Cup panellist and was centre back throughout Cork U21’s 2014 campaign that ended with an All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Roscommon. White has been a prominent in Clonakilty’s senior side over the past number of years and looks certain to play a pivotal role in the Rebel’s U21 campaign.
A member of the Carbery Rangers team that went all the way to last year’s Cork senior football decider before coming up short against Ballincollig, O’Rourke is expected to play a big role for a Cork U21 team anxious to taste All-Ireland championship success for the first time since 2009.