Positives for Cork footballers despite the bitter blow of Munster final defeat

Positives for Cork footballers despite the bitter blow of Munster final defeat

Steven O'Brien of Tipperary in action against Killian O'Hanlon of Cork on Sunday. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

LET'S rewind back a year, to just before the draw for the 2020 inter-county championships.

Back in that glorious pre-Covid era, when you didn’t have to dress up like Dick Turpin to go into a shop, what were our hopes for the Cork football team? 

If, for instance, you had been told that Ronan McCarthy’s team would qualify from Division 3 of the Allianz Football League without losing a game and then lose by three points in the Munster final, would you have taken it? In 2019, for comparison, Cork ran Kerry to three points in the provincial decider, a massive improvement on the 17-point loss of the previous year.

Of course, the assumptions inbuilt into the question would have been that it would be the Kingdom emerging victorious again and defeat sending Cork into the qualifiers, with the chance to progress to the Super 8s. So, to re-frame it, how good a year is it for Cork to achieve promotion and beat Kerry but fail to end the eight-year wait for a Munster title and exit the championship before the All-Ireland series?

We will hold our hands up – after overcoming Peter Keane’s side for the first time since 2012, we expected Cork to build on that and see off Tipperary, too. The article outlining that view was in last Thursday’s paper, for posterity.

Such an opinion turned out to be completely wrong, we have no problem in admitting. Cork played poorly but a large part of that was Tipperary’s excellence. While there might have been a possibility that playing on the weekend of the Bloody Sunday centenary, and wearing white and green jerseys, would weigh on David Power’s team, they were in fact inspired by the hand of history on their shoulders.

You can say that fate played a part, but when Cork analyse things they will look to more prosaic reasons like injuries to Luke Connolly, Seán Powter and Kevin Flahive as well as numerous handling errors and poor shooting.

The Cork team make their way out for the second half. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
The Cork team make their way out for the second half. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Defeat means the end of Ronan McCarthy’s three-year term. Up until Sunday at lunchtime, the consensus would have meant he had improved Cork and, overall, he has but in the world we live in, the last result tends to cloud views.

When asked afterwards what he felt the future held, he wasn’t rushing into any rash decisions.

“You don't ever rush into a decision like that,” he said.

“There is three elements to that decision; one is obviously the county board and executive, they have an input into that, and the players do, and once they decide what they want to do, I'll decide then myself.

“That decision could be made for me by them. There is three segments to that decision. We have plenty of time yet to talk about that.”

Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

It feels like a big opportunity missed for Cork but Tipp’s win wasn’t a fluke by any means – David Power guided some of them to win the All-Ireland minor title in 2011 and there had been Munster U21 success, as well. Even in the spring of this year – which feels like a decade ago – they scored 21 points against Cork in the league and three goals were needed to secure victory by a point.

It is they rather than Cork who now advance to play Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final and, rather spookily, the make-up of the semis is exactly the same as the 1920 championship (completed in 1922), with Dublin taking on Cavan in other game.

The ceremony at Croke Park on Saturday evening to mark the 100th anniversary of Bloody Sunday was perfectly judged and, if you didn’t see it last Monday night, the documentary about that day which was shown on RTÉ1 is well worth a look.

With strong input from Killavullen native Michael Foley, who wrote the marvellous The Bloodied Field, it demonstrated the facts in a clear and unambiguous way, without employing emotional subjectivity. The only problem, such as it was, was its relative brevity – we didn’t envy the makers’ task in condensing it all to an hour.

To that end, we would also recommend the companion podcast and the aforementioned book, which provide us with the human stories behind the mere statistics.

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