All-Ireland U20 HC Final: Cork 2-22 Offaly 3-13
Offaly’s rise will continue but it was Cork whose underage resurgence captured a third All-Ireland under-20 hurling title in four years at a sun-splashed Semple Stadium on Sunday.
It wasn’t long ago that Cork were 22 years without a national trophy at this grade but they will now hope this crop can help them end their senior drought, led by goalscorers Micheál Mullins and Diarmuid Healy and Ben Cunningham, who scored nine points in the decider.
A Faithful public ravenous for hurling success dominated the 29,380 crowd but many of this young team will get two more cracks at this crown after their minor heartbreak last year.
Adam Screeney (0-9), one of those fresh out of minor, was bending this final to his will in the first half. He had Offaly’s first three points, two from frees he won himself.
Cork leapfrogged ahead in the ninth minute. Cunningham’s low drive was saved by Mark Troy but Healy capitalised on a defensive error to find the net.
Screeney tore another hole in the Cork defence a minute later. He sent Cormac Egan into space and the Tullamore dual star was toppled for a penalty by Shane Kingston’s high hit. After conferring with his umpires, Chris Mooney issued a yellow card that could’ve easily have been red.
Dan Ravenhill’s penalty found the top corner, although Brion Saunderson did get his hurley to it.
Screeney escaped for the next point and sent Egan into space again, although Saunderson made the save.
Cunningham and Screeney swapped two frees each, with Screeney once again fouled for both as Cork ended the half with three defenders on yellow cards.
Regardless, the Rebels ended the half stronger. Cork’s defensive powerhouses Eoin Downey and Ben O’Connor were playing together for the first time this year and it was when Downey stepped into the free-man role that Cork began to settle and get to grips with Screeney.
They launched five of the final six points from Mullins, David Cremin, Cunningham, Jack Leahy and Tadhg O’Connell to lead by 1-11 to 1-9.
That run continued after the break with Mullins’s second solo goal in two games. It took just 10 seconds from the moment the sliotar left the referee’s hand for the throw-in to the net as the captain streaked past three defenders before his deceptive shot beat the goalkeeper.
Cork would add the next six points, with four of those from Cunningham’s reliable stick.
Offaly trailed by 11 but had goals from Conor Doyle and Shane Rigney with the final puck.
Cork never looked rattled as William Buckley and Leahy took their tallies to 0-4 each, while Healy added a point on top of his goal and five assists.
CORK: B Saunderson; M Howell, S Kingston, D O’Sullivan; J Dwyer, B O’Connor, M Mullins (1-1); T O’Connell (0-1), E Downey; W Buckley (0-4), B Cunningham (0-9, five frees), D Healy (1-1); R O’Sullivan, D Cremin (0-1), J Leahy (0-4).
Subs: E O’Leary for R O’Sullivan (45 mins), A O’Sullivan (0-1) for Cremin (48), C Walsh for Leahy (56), C Doolin for Dwyer, B Keating for O’Connell (both 58).
OFFALY: M Troy; P Taaffe, J Mahon, B Kavanagh; L Watkins, S Bourke, T Guinan; C Spain, C King; D Bourke, C Egan, C Doyle (1-0); D Ravenhill (1-4, 1-0 penalty, two frees, one 65), C Mitchell, A Screeney (0-9, seven frees).
Subs: S Rigney (1-0) for Egan (h-t), B Egan for Mitchell, R Kelly for Taaffe (both 40 mins), J Hoctor for King (46), A Watkins for Spain (53).
Referee: C Mooney (Dublin).