Craig Morgan: homecoming of sorts for Tipperary hurling
Craig Morgan recalls it as a party, a homecoming of sorts. A celebration of Tipperary hurling.
It's almost half his young lifetime ago now but the memories of the county's 2010 All-Ireland Under 21 win are still there in rich technicolour.
The Tipp U-21s hammered Galway by 25 points that evening in Thurles and, six days after the seniors thwarted Kilkenny's drive-for-five, over 21,000 turned out for the carnival, including Morgan. Tipperary officially ruled the hurling world.
Nine years on, they're in a position to repeat the feat, albeit the party will kick off at LIT Gaelic Grounds in Limerick and not Thurles this evening if the U-20s can complete their part of a dream double.
Morgan, now captain of the Tipp U-20s, was in Croke Park last Sunday to watch Seamus Callanan hoist the Liam MacCarthy Cup and couldn't help his mind from briefly wandering. What if it could be him six days later?
"When you were watching Seamie lifting the cup you'd be thinking, 'Jesus, I hope that's me'," admitted Morgan. "You'd be saying that to yourself and thinking about the match and getting yourself ready.
"Even when I was watching the match, I was thinking, 'Jeez, this could be us next week'. You get excited then but you have to keep your feet on the ground because you have to be in the right frame of mind. It's such a big day coming up."
There's one giant problem for Tipp, of course, a potential party-pooper; Cork. And after all the heartache that Tipp have delivered upon Cork teams in the last 12 months, the young Rebels would love nothing better than to make off with the James Nowlan Cup themselves.
Cork led by two points in the final minute of stoppage time in July's Munster final only to be suckered by a Jake Morris match winning goal for Tipperary. Something similar happened in last year's All-Ireland final - played at the U-21 grade - when Conor Stakelum provided the last action heroics with a match winning goal. Clearly, Cork won't lack motivation.
"We've had great battles with them," said Morgan. "In the minors, two years ago, they drew with us in Semple Stadium and then beat us in the replay. Last year, in the U-21s, they did beat us in the Munster final but we beat them in the All-Ireland final."
Morgan suggests that Denis Ring's Cork will 'probably be favourites' for this evening's fourth final in two seasons between the counties.
It's a dubious call considering how Tipp won that Munster final before hammering eight goals past Wexford in the semi-finals. But Morgan is standing over his claim.
"We got the rub of the green in the Munster final," he said. "Cork will probably be favourites going into this after beating a good Kilkenny team that won the Leinster final. And it's hard to beat a team twice. We know how good a team Cork are, what they can bring. So we're just going to bring the best we can and hope it's enough."
Morgan came on as a sub in last year's All-Ireland U-21 decider and was there on the pitch for Stakelum's late strike though Morris was the star with 1-4 on the day.
Morris, Jerome Cahill and Paddy Cadell were all on the successful senior panel this summer with Morris coming on in last weekend's final and scoring a point against Kilkenny.
"I was delighted when he came on," said Morgan. "It was great to see, someone form our team and one of our big leaders coming on for the seniors and making a big impact.
"I know Jake from a young age. I'd know him well and I was delighted that they got the win and he was part of it.
"He has everything really. He's shown the talent he has and he's still a very young age. He has a lot of time left."
Tipperary: A Browne; C McCarthy, E Connolly, C Morgan; N Heffernan, P Cadell, B O’Mara; C Connolly, J Cahill; G O’Connor, J Morris, J Ryan; A Ormond, B Seymour, C Bowe. Subs: E Collins, M Purcell, R Quirke, K Breen, D Woods, K O’Kelly, J Fogarty, S Hayes, C Bourke.
Cork: G Collins; C O’Callaghan, J Keating, E Roche; G Millerick, S O’Leary Hayes, R Downey; R Walsh, T O’Connell; S Twomey, B Roche, D Connery; B Turnbull, S O’Regan, P Power. Subs: I Butler, R Sheehan, J Copps, C Hanifin, D Hanlon, B Murphy, S Kennefick, E Sheehan, L O’Shea.