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oneills.com All-Ireland U-20HC: Rebels reign in Thurles

Offaly goalkeeper Mark Troy is put under pressure by Jack Leahy of Cork at FBD Semple Stadium this afternoon.

Offaly goalkeeper Mark Troy is put under pressure by Jack Leahy of Cork at FBD Semple Stadium this afternoon.

ONeills.com All-Ireland U-20 HC Final

Cork 2-22 Offaly 3-13

By Kevin Egan at FBD Semple Stadium

Cork’s explosive start to the second half powered them to U-20 championship glory this afternoon in Thurles, as Offaly simply couldn’t match the Rebels’ power and athleticism once Ben O’Connor’s side moved into a higher gear.

Team captain Micheál Mullins set the tone when he took possession tight from the throw in and powered down the heart of the Offaly defence before blasting the ball to the net, and over the next ten minutes, Cork turned a nip and tuck contest that enthralled and excited just under 30,000 supporters, into as comfortable a victory as any team could possibly hope to experience in an All-Ireland final at any grade.

Six points in a row followed, with key forwards Jack Leahy, William Buckley and Ben Cunningham all on the mark from a variety of angles, the majority of them brought about by their ability to win their own ball and hold off defenders to generate a clean look at the posts.

As has been their trademark all year, Offaly’s resilience and persistence was admirable from the moment when Adam Screeney broke Cork’s run with a free in the 40th minute, but they simply didn’t have the strength to generate the momentum they needed to really bring the crowd back into the game.

Conor Doyle’s goal gave a brief glimpse of hope, but straight away Cork came back down the field and Diarmuid Healy split the uprights with a wonderful point from the right corner of the attack, and that was how the contest continued. Offaly worked incredibly hard to generate chances against a resolute Cork defence and an imperious half-back line, but two or three in a row proved elusive, particularly with Ben Cunningham beginning to find his groove.

The depth of the Cork panel came to the fore as Eoin O’Leary and Adam O’Sullivan put in big shifts of the bench, and while Shane Rigney did fire in a late goal for the Faithful County, it was far too late to put any real pressure on the rampant Rebels.

It was all so different from the first half, when the hurling was physical, intense, and of the highest quality. Cork got a huge early boost when Diarmuid Healy pounced on a loose ball and clinically found the bottom corner with a perfectly placed daisy cutter of a shot, but the real star of the show was Adam Screeney, who was almost unstoppable in the left corner of the Offaly attack. He picked off two glorious points of his own, won a string of frees that he converted, and set up the attack that saw Cormac Egan hit with a frontal challenge by Shane Kingston, leading to Dan Ravenhill’s perfect penalty to retake the lead.

Once Offaly got the ball into the hands of their mercurial talisman, good things happened, and he set up another wonderful goal chance for Egan, though Cork were able to make a block.

However as the half wore on, Cork did a better job of covering off the space and restricting the supply of ball into the full-forward line, and the signs were ominous for Offaly as Cork fired four points in a row to build a 1-11 to 1-9 interval lead, and that was after a half in which Offaly hadn’t shot a wide, and their only missed scoring chance was Egan’s effort, which ultimately yielded a score from the subsequent 65.

Still, as the roars echoed around the ground at half-time, and with a slight breeze set to favour the midlanders in the second half, it felt like this one was still in the balance.

The script was about to change dramatically, as Cork were on the cusp of a surge of scores that was to put the James Nolan cup firmly in their hands.

SCORERS FOR CORK: Ben Cunningham 0-9 (0-5f), Jack Leahy 0-4, William Buckley 0-4, Micheál Mullins 1-1, Diarmuid Healy 1-1, David Cremin 0-1, Tadhg O’Connell 0-1, Adam O’Sullivan 0-1.

SCORERS FOR OFFALY: Adam Screeney 0-9 (0-7f), Dan Ravenhill 1-4 (1-0 pen, 0-2f, 0-1 65), Conor Doyle 1-0, Shane Rigney 1-0.

CORK: Brion Saunderson; Mark Howell, Shane Kingston, Darragh O’Sullivan; James Dwyer, Ben O’Connor, Micheál Mullins; Tadhg O’Connell, Eoin Downey; Diarmuid Healy, William Buckley, Ben Cunningham; Ross O’Sullivan, David Cremin, Jack Leahy.

SUBS: Eoin O’Leary for O’Sullivan (45), Adam O’Sullivan for Cremin (48), Colin Walsh for Leahy (55), Brian Keating for O’Connell (57), Ciarán Doolin for Dwyer (57)

OFFALY: Mark Troy; Patrick Taaffe, James Mahon, Brecon Kavanagh; Luke Watkins, Sam Bourke, Ter Guinan; Colin Spain, Cathal King; Dan Bourke, Cormac Egan, Conor Doyle; Dan Ravenhill, Charlie Mitchell, Adam Screeney.

SUBS: Shane Rigney for Egan (half-time), Barry Egan for Mitchell (39), Rúairí Kelly for Taaffe (39), Joe Hoctor for King (45), Ailbe Watkins for Spain (53)

REF: Chris Mooney (Dublin).