AS essential as this All-Ireland hurling championship has been in offering respite from the gloom of winter and Covid, it's been a bittersweet month for the Cork faithful.
Few, if any, were harbouring real hopes of the gap to 2005 being bridged come December. By the same token, no one was expecting the quarter-final stage to come around with four teams from Munster involved and Cork on the outside looking in.
It's scant consolation to Leesiders that there's little between the top teams, aside from front-runners Limerick. Or that the qualifier loss to 2019 All-Ireland champions Tipperary was balanced on a knife-edge in the last 10 minutes.
Cork has the tradition, playing population and marquee hurlers to be challenging for the major prizes every year.
Those outside Rebel county have suggested Cork fans are clinging on to past glories in bemoaning their current status as also-rans. To a degree, they're right.
Improved underage structures around the country mean there are talented hurlers coming through each year in every county. Certainly, the aura that used to carry Cork teams to unlikely victories from minor upwards has faded.
The frustration emanates from the progress that was made in 2017 and '18. Two Munster seniors titles, a minor crown and an U21 provincial title were secured. A senior All-Ireland seemed to be within touching distance.
The defeats in consecutive All-Ireland semi-finals were particularly painful as Cork had six wins and two draws from their other championship encounters in those two campaigns.
Since then, there have been more defeats than wins: five to four. It mirrors the league, Cork managing just two victories in the five regular league games in both 2019 and 2020. There was a playoff win away to Kilkenny last year alright.
Consistency and doggedness are needed before Cork are taken seriously again. Treating the league with the respect it deserves and becoming an obdurate opponent should be a starting point.
That will be a tricky one for Kieran Kingston and his selectors, as they patently need to freshen up the team a bit more as well. Results in the spring will restore confidence but Cork hurling is judged in the summer, until this season anyway.
Deccie Dalton and Jack O'Connor, who will surely prosper buzzing around inside on a harder pitch, were blooded against Dublin and Tipp. Another three or four newcomers in the starting 15 and main subs are required.
Though they're in their early thirties, Patrick Horgan and Seamus Harnedy remain Cork's most potent attackers. Horgan tallied 2-24 in three games and Harnedy 0-12 from play. They'll be essential components of the team next summer but should they be given a bit of time to recharge during the league? Or perhaps the Cork management need to consider having one of the All-Star pair as an option off the bench in championship?
Shane Kingston, who aside from the Tipp loss, was excellent across a 12-month period for Douglas, UCC and Cork, and Robbie O'Flynn will turn 24 and need the chance to step up as leaders in the attack.
It remains to be seen if the likes of Brian Turnbull and Shane Barrett, following late cameos in this season's championship, Pádraig Power, Shane O'Regan, Seán Twomey, Jack Cahalane, Alan Connolly and Brian Roche can push on from underage promise.
Elsewhere in the forwards, the management faces some very tough calls. Injuries have dogged Alan Cadogan and Conor Lehane has lost his confidence. Other veterans Bill Cooper and Aidan Walsh have clocked up a fair bit of mileage. Will they all be retained in the squad?
It's a similar scenario further back the field. Anthony Nash is 37 next year, with the Collins brothers, Pa and Ger, pushing hard to take over the number one geansaí.
Chris Joyce, Damien Cahalane and Stephen McDonnell are also on the go for a while. Conor O'Callaghan, Cork U20 captain, and Ciarán Joyce from Castlematyr are among the promising candidates in defence who could join the panel.
Seán O'Leary Hayes, 21, started the Waterford game last month, while Ger Mellerick recovering from injury would add a utility hurler who excelled as a man-marker underage.
Again, it'll be a tricky balancing act, because power and size are always required in a back six. At least Rob Downey and Tim O'Mahony have the height to anchor two of the defensive berths.
A system where Cork are harder to break down, using Mark Coleman as a sweeper full-time, could be the catalyst to make the Rebels a more fearsome proposition. Right now, teams enjoying playing Cork too much.
How about this for a slightly refreshed line-up...
Seán O'Donoghue, Colm Spillane, Conor O'Callaghan;
Rob Downey, Tim O'Mahony, Seán O'Leary Hayes;
Darragh Fitzgibbon, Luke Meade;
Robbie O'Flynn, Shane Kingston, Seamus Harnedy;
Patrick Horgan, Deccie Dalton.