Cork U20 hurlers end the long wait for All-Ireland hurling glory

Cork 2-19 Dublin 1-18

Courtesy of Denis Hurley (The Echo)

IT was far from straightforward and there were a few late jitters, but ultimately Cork held their nerve to triumph in the Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U20HC final at Nowlan Park on Saturday evening.

Blitzing their opponents with an unanswered 1-4 inside eight minutes, Pat Ryan’s side still held a seven-point advantage at half-time. While Dublin cut that to four just after the second-half water-break, Cork looked to have eased any worries as their second goal, from Pádraig Power, made it 2-18 to 0-14, and a pair of points from sub Brian Hayes looked to have acted as insurance in the immediate aftermath.

Back Dublin came once more, though, snaffling a goal as sub Luke McDwyer converted the rebound when goalkeeper Eddie Gibbons’ 20m free was stopped on the Cork line. Cork concerns weren’t helped with a pair of wides but Jack Cahalane was on hand to give them some more breathing space and, though Dublin’s Liam Murphy, had the final score with his sixth point of the evening, Cork took the silverware.

For a group of players who were denied a ‘proper’ year at minor level – they beat Dublin in a one-off U17 competition in 2017 – and hadn’t played since the Munster final against Tipperary on December 23, the victory was a sweet one. 

Cork could scarcely have wished for a better start. Power pointed inside 23 seconds, then on 53 Alan Connolly doubled that lead halfway through the second minute Shane Barrett had sent over a third.

Daire Connery, having reacted first to reach a clearance from Dublin goalkeeper Gibbons, slotted over the fourth in the third minute and though there was a five-minute wait for the next score, it was a big one as the opening goal arrived. After some outstanding individual play and a mazy run from Connolly set him towards goal, he unselflishly passed to Power, who went for the jugular. While he was denied by a Gibbons save, Seán Twomey was on hand to send the loose ball to the net.

Such dominance couldn’t last but it was nevertheless a solid foundation block and the seven-point lead still pertained at the water-break, as Dublin’s two opening points, both from Liam Murphy, were answered by Colin O’Brien – after a superb catch – and Shane Barrett respectively.

That left it 1-6 to 0-2 but, while Dublin’s Darach McBride did waste a good scoring opportunity immediately after action resumed, they did manage to belatedly pick up some momentum. After the ever-industrious O’Brien was harshly penalised for charging, Dara Purcell cut the gap to six points and then Murphy’s third brought them closer again after good play from Darragh Power and McBride.

Unfortunately for the Leinster champions, too often they were let down by poor decision-making, either in terms of wayward scoring attempts or misplaced passes when Cork might have been vulnerable.

An exquisite pointed sideline cut from O’Brien settled any nerves that Cork may have had and that was followed by a Connery free from halfway before Shane Barrett’s run was the catalyst for a smart Tommy O’Connell effort.

That opened up an eight-point lead, the biggest of the game up to then – and it could have been more but for a Gibbons save from Darragh Flynn. Regardless, Cork’s strong tackling and defending from the front ensured that Dublin found their efforts to get closer largely repelled.

It was 1-11 to 0-7 at half-time, Cork’s final score a massive Flynn point after he had squeezed through a double challenge and there might even have been a sniff of a late goal as O’Brien fed Brian Roche but Darragh Power did well to force him wide.

Cork were back out first for the second half with Dublin keeping them waiting and it seemed to pay off as they had three of the first four points to come back within five by the 36th minute, Micheál Murphy with a pair of fine efforts.

They continued to chip away at Cork’s lead and Power’s point on 47 left it 1-15 to 0-14. Alan Connolly had a third point for Cork before what looked like the decisive score, Brian Roche the architect for Power’s finish, and Hayes’s contribution left ten in it.

Dublin wouldn’t relent, but Cork had enough in the tank.

Scorers for Cork: P Power 1-1, A Connolly (0-2 f), S Barrett, D Connery (0-2 f) 0-3 each, S Twomey 1-0, D Flynn, T O’Connell, C O’Brien (0-1 sideline), B Hayes 0-2 each, J Cahalane 0-1.

Dublin: L Murphy 0-6 (0-3 f), D Purcell 0-4, M Murphy 0-3, L McDwyer 1-0, K Desmond, E Gibbons (f) 0-2 each, D Power 0-1.

CORK: E Davis; C O’Callaghan, E Roche, A Walsh Barry; D Connery, C Joyce, D O’Leary; B Roche, T O’Connell; D Flynn, S Barrett, S Twomey; Colin O’Brien, P Power A Connolly.

Subs: J Cahalane for O’Brien (39), E Carey for Twomey (41), B Hayes for Connolly (49), S O’Regan for Flynn (53), Cormac O’Brien for Barrett (58).

DUBLIN: E Gibbons; A Murphy, A Dunphy, I Ó hEither; E O’Donnell, K Burke, T Kinnane; D Power, M Sweeney; D McBride, M Murphy, L Gannon; D Purcell, K Desmond, L Murphy.

Subs: B Sheehy for Kinnane (10-11, temporary), D Leavy for O’Donnell (39), C Foley for Sweeney (46), L McDwyer for McBride (48), Sheehy for Kinnane (55), P Linehan for Power (56).

Referee: J Keenan (Wicklow).