The last time a Cork minor team lined out in Croke Park on the first Sunday in September was in 2007 when they were beaten by Tipperary, who had also bested them in the Munster final. That was also the last time a Carrig man lined out for Cork minors in an All-Ireland final. Robbie White took the field at full-forward and scored Cork’s first goal in the opening half. It is a testament to our club that Cork’s first appearance back in the decider in a decade also features a Carrigtwohill man, Aaron Walsh Barry.
Earlier this year, Aaron became the first Carrigtwohill man to claim a minor hurling provincial title since Robbie White did the same in 2006, when he scored 1-2. If Cork prevail on Sunday then Aaron will be the first Carrig player to win an All-Ireland minor hurling title since the trio of Niall McCarthy, Jason Barrett and Mickey ‘Da’ Fitzgerald in 1998. That is illustrious company to be in.
Aaron and Cork’s journey to Croke Park began back in May with an easy 19-point win over Waterford in a playoff. Aaron came off the bench for the final ten minutes of that game as Cork sailed through. The Munster semi-final was a repeat of the previous year, when eventual All-Ireland champions Tipperary had their toughest task against Cork before cruising through the rest of the 2016 competition. Aaron again started from the bench in the first game but as Tipperary pressure began to mount in the second quarter, Cork manager Denis Ring, turned to Walsh Barry to shore up the defence before the half was out. The rest, as they say, is history. Aaron excelled at wing-back and earned the start in the replay in front of 8,000 Cork supporters in Páirc Uí Rinn. Another outstanding performance lifted Cork to a 3-point win and their first provincial final since 2008.
A double-header in Thurles saw Cork take on Clare in the minor and senior and our Cork minors set the pace by routing Clare in a 17-point win. Aaron had already cemented his place at no.5 and hurled extremely well as he helped Cork minors end a 9-year drought for a Munster hurling championship.
A tougher assignment followed against Leinster runners-up, Dublin, in an All-Ireland semi-final but Aaron’s and Cork’s class shone through as they emerged victorious, 0-23 to 2-13. It was an all the more remarkable win as many of these same Cork and Dublin players clashed the previous week in the U17 All-Ireland hurling final, in which Aaron again played a prominent role as Cork won the inaugural tournament. Indeed, Aaron will go down in GAA history as one of only 5 players to have started the first ever U17 All-Ireland hurling final and the last ever minor All-Ireland hurling final. It is an incredible achievement.
Aaron has already achieved so much this year and it is unique that he will line out in an All-Ireland final having already won an inter-county All-Ireland this year. It is a fitting mantle for someone who has already made so much history. There is one hurdle left for Aaron and Cork on Sunday though as they look to overcome Galway and claim Cork’s first minor hurling All-Ireland since 2001. Galway have won 5 and played in 9 All-Irelands since losing to Cork in 2001 so the young Rebels will certainly be up against it. Aaron has already beaten the Tribesmen this year however, in the U17 All-Ireland semi-final.
Regardless of Sunday’s outcome Aaron has achieved an incredible amount this year and everyone is rightly proud of him. Aaron didn’t start Cork’s first two minor championship games but has started every game since. He is the only player that is named to start Sunday that was not named to start for the Waterford game back in May. Throughout Cork’s run he is the only player to have worked his way into the starting fifteen through performance and not through injury. That is a testament to his hard work, determination and effort and is an example for every young hurler to follow. Carrigtwohill GAA has followed his journey all year with great admiration and pride and everyone involved in the club and the village wishes him the very best as he again looks to make history in the Cork jersey on Sunday. We are also looking forward to seeing him back in the blue and gold for a minor county semi-final next week. It will be the third semi-final of Aaron’s year. He hasn’t lost one yet. In fact, he hasn’t lost a championship game with club or county minors all year. Up the Rebels!
For a slideshow of Aaron’s ‘Road to Croker’ click here.
Many thanks to John O’Brien and Paul Flynn for use of their photos.