NO sooner had Cork beaten Kerry a week and a half ago than the half-sneering comments began to ventilate.
“Wouldn’t it be just like Cork to turn around and lose to Tipperary now?”, was the general tenor, even though the last time Cork lost a Munster football final to anyone other than Kerry was in 1935.
Since the reintroduction of an open draw in 1991, any defeat of the Kingdom before the decider was followed by the Munster title.
We accept that that is a literal reading of the discourse, which was of course based on the travails of the Cork football team in the recent past.
The dark days have included the loss to Tipperary in the championship in 2016 and then being outclassed by the Premier County in the opening round of the 2018 league, the team’s first game at the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
However, as recent as they were, that was a different time where Cork are concerned. We realise that such a statement could be taken as a big fate-tempter, but a lot has changed since relegation to Division 3 in 2019.
In fact, the change came midway through that campaign and took in a victory over Tipperary in Thurles, but the team had left themselves too much to do to stay up.
Since then, Cork have reached the Super 8s and gained promotion as well as beating Kerry. By any measure, the graph is pointing upwards and there was a real sense that, while the semi-final win imbued belief, there was no over-confidence.
Manager Ronan McCarthy was certainly keen to ensure that nobody was losing the run of themselves.
“We never got too excited in days we were beaten, and there were very dark days, let’s be fair,” he said.
“This team were beaten by 17 points two years ago, 15 by Tyrone, relegated to Division 3, so we just felt we needed to keep things steady and keep going in the right direction, because we felt the talent and the ability was there.
“But obviously at some point their confidence was shattered from various games, so what I’ll say is we never get too excited either way. We’ll let them enjoy it, obviously it’s a different type of enjoyment in the circumstances we’re in, but we’ll bring them back down to earth very quickly.
“The other point here that is very relevant, we have Cian Kiely back the next day, James Loughrey, Cathail O’Mahoney and others back. If a fella wants to get carried away with this, he’s going to lose his place very quickly.”
That strength in depth that McCarthy alluded to is probably the strongest indicator of just how improved Cork are. Nine of the 11 subs against Kerry were used, with goalkeeper Anthony Casey and Sam Ryan the unlucky two, while the six starters still standing by the end were Micheál Martin, Maurice Shanley, Seán Meehan, Matthew Taylor, Ruairí Deane and Mark Collins.
Not so long ago, it would have been unthinkable that Cork could beat Kerry without leaning on their best 18 or so, but here 24 did their bit.
That was of course only possible because of extra time and so hopefully only 20 players will be needed on Sunday. Going on form, you would back them to get the job done.