By Brian McDonnell
CLASHES between Cork and Tipperary at under-21 level have produced some sensational games in recent years. And, for the fourth year in succession Ken Hogan’s Tipperary team take on the Rebels in a Munster under-21 hurling quarter-final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Wednesday, June 6th (throw-in 7.30pm) - the winner of that encounter will face Limerick in the semi-finals on July 18th.
The scheduling of the game, following a weekend of club championship action, leaves a lot to be desired.
A number of players on either panel have senior inter-county commitments, club commitments and exam commitments. Tipperary, for example, will be without Jason Forde. The up-and-coming Silvermines star, who inspired Nenagh CBS to All-Ireland Colleges glory, starts his leaving certificate examinations that week.
If anyone is capable of managing the Tipperary under-21 team through these difficult circumstances it is Ken Hogan (Lorrha & Dorrha). Hogan, an accomplished coach who has previously managed the Tipperary senior team and guided Coolderry (Offaly) to this year’s All-Ireland club final, is joined on the management team by TJ Connolly (Cashel King Cormacs) and Tony Lanigan (Holycross-Ballycahill).
“It has been difficult enough to prepare with club commitments,” Ken Hogan told the Tipperary Star.
“There are, for example, a full round a club championship games in north Tipperary next weekend so it can be difficult to organise a team to play the following Wednesday.”
“The players have done very well to prepare for this,” Ken Hogan added.
“An awful lot of the guys would have third level commitments as well and final exams. We’re missing our prodigy Jason Forde as well because of his leaving cert.”
Tipperary are seeking their tenth title at the grade and a first since 2010 when Ken Hogan guided his side to an All-Ireland triumph. In 2011, however, Tipperary lost to Cork (1-21 to 4-19) at the Munster semi-final stage having beaten Waterford in the opening round. The 2011 clash with Cork proved to be an extraordinarily entertaining affair defined by 45 scores in 60 minutes. Tipperary got the better of Cork (2-17 to 0-21) in 2010 and once again stunned the Rebels with another superb display in 2009 (2-22 to 0-25).
In 2009 the corresponding minor side was surprised by Waterford in the Munster final (0-18 to 1-13). Interestingly Tipperary got the better of Cork in the ’09 Munster minor semi-final following a replay - the drawn game finished 5-17 apiece while Tipp won the replay in Thurles 2-21 to 1-12.
Brian Stapleton (Templederry Kenyons), Denis Maher (Thurles Sarsfields), Ruairí Gleeson (Kildangan), Pádraig Heffernan (Clonoulty-Rossmore) and David Collins (Drom & Inch) all starred on that minor XV.
Clonoulty-Rossmore’s Thomas Butler and Pat Molloy (Moycarkey-Borris) have been ruled out through injury while Ruairí Gleeson (Kildangan) is expected to recover from a minor knock in time for next week’s trip to Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
And, Ken Hogan argues that if one or two players are ruled out through injury it’s up to the rest of the panel to seize their opportunity.
“Oh sure, this is the thing,” Ken Hogan said.
“My aim with the udner-21 team is to bring players through and help the younger players develop. I enjoy that and I think that TJ (Connolly) and Tony (Lanigan) have done a tremendous job with this group of players. We have worked very hard to tie a good team together.
“We are preparing well and even though going down to Cork is a great challenge for us we think we’re ready for it.”
Although a repeat of last year’s extraordinary game is unlikely Ken Hogan is expecting a top class contest between these age-old rivals.
“Tipp-Cork games normally bring out the best in one another. I don’t know if it will be similar to last year. We have won some of those entertaining games and we have lost some of them, but you don’t want it to be too loose because at the end of the day you are trying to win the game.”
“We will go down there as heavy underdogs I suppose with the forwards Cork have on their under-21 team. So, we will be going down there to do our best,” Ken Hogan said before adding that the team would dearly love the Premier people to come out in support of his players.
“Tipp supporters have always been fantastic to support their team and anyone who goes down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh is going to see a top class game with top class hurlers. It’s going to be the stars of the future; it will be a great game to go to and, of course, we would love to see a bit of support for the team.”