A film of dust on the cover of the match programme supplied the first clue about the length of time since Cork’s last national football league game.
On the first Sunday in March, the Rebels wore the distinctive black jersey to commemorate Tomas MacCurtain and Terence McSwiney for the visit of Derry to Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the 2pm throw-in.
Both held the position of Lord Mayor of Cork when they died 100 years ago and their images featured prominently on the front of the jerseys.
That biting cold afternoon, when the revamped stadium welcomed only the genuine Cork football supporter, seems like a totally different world away now.
Who’d have thought over seven months later that social distancing, hand-washing, sanitising dispensers, and the wearing of masks would become the norm?
The Cork team featured five players, who’d be classed as ever-present in the county’s charge to the top of Division 3 with a maximum of 10 points in that the quintet started all five games.
Victories over Offaly, Leitrim, Down, Tipperary, and Derry left Ronan McCarthy’s charges on the cusp of promotion, requiring only a point from their remaining two games against Louth at home and away to Longford to make an immediate return to the second tier.
Louth should have been on Leeside a fortnight later only for Covid-19 to bring the shutters down on the country, which went into lockdown.
Cork were forced into a late change from their selected team after Ruairí Deane, who had started in all the games, suffered a serious hamstring injury and the number 10 position was filled by Sean White, who was listed at number 22.
So, instead of the Bantry Blues player, one of the team’s leaders, being part of the quintet it was his Clonakilty counter-part who joined skipper Ian Maguire, Sean Powter, Mattie Taylor, and Brian Hartnett iín starting every game.
Maguire is the only one to have worn the same number eight shirt throughout and played in the same position, which is obvious, I suppose, when you consider he’s a midfielder.
The remaining players have filled different roles like Powter, for example, who has worn the number two jersey four times and pulled the number six shirt over his head on the other occasion.
Mallow’s Mattie Taylor worn seven, also four times, and had the six jersey, too, while White figured in number 11 and once in the 10 slot.
Hartnett, who was one of Cork’s most influential performers in the 2019 All-Ireland U20 success, twice wore nine and 12 and number 10, also.
Cork won the game by 3-13 to 3-11, but almost squandered a 10-point lead with only eight minutes of normal time left in the wind-swept conditions.
But, despite conceding 2-3 in the closing stages, Cork had more than done enough to bag their fifth Division 3 victory.
On the hour Paul Kerrigan caught out the Derry defence with a quickly taken free to send John O’Rourke through for his second goal.
And when substitute Michael Hurley kicked a point with his first touch Cork looked to be cruising at 3-12 to 1-8 only to switch off at the back.
Emmett Bradley and substitute Niall Loughlin netted for the Ulster side, who had one last attack with both teams reduced to 14 following black cards to Killian O’Hanlon and Ciaran McFaul.
But, Cork managed to get their mitts on the leather as referee Fergal Kelly blew for the last time, four minutes, into injury-time.
O’Rourke finished top scorer with 2-2 followed by Damien Gore on 1-3 while Cathail O’Mahony came off the bench for the injured Luke Connolly after 25 minutes to kick 0-4, including a couple of frees.
CORK: A Casey (Kiskeam); T Clancy (Fermoy), M Shanley (Clonakilty), P Ring (Aghabullogue); L O’Donovan (Clonakilty), S Powter (Douglas), M Taylor (Mallow); I Maguire (St Finbarr’s), captain, K O’Hanlon (Kilshannig); J O’Rourke (Carbery Rangers), S White (Clonakilty), B Hartnett (Douglas); P Kerrigan (Nemo Rangers), L Connolly (do), D Gore (Kilmacabea).
Subs: C O’Mahony (Mitchelstown) for Connolly injured 25, K O’Donovan (Nemo Rangers) for L O’Donovan 35+1, E McSweeney (Knocknagree) for Hartnett 45, M Hurley (Castlehaven) for Kerrigan 62, J Loughrey (Mallow) for Powter 64.