UNDER normal circumstances Cork footballers would be gearing up for the Division 3 final at Croke Park tomorrow night.
Until the ban on games was introduced, they had won all five games and were heading to top the poll with three remaining.
Cork were bankers to make it to the headquarters, which, for some of the players in the panel, would have been their first time togging out there.
But, the world has changed completely since the March 1 defeat of Derry by 3-13 to 3-11 at Páirc Uí Chaoimh with the month feeling like years.
Normally, club players would now be cranking it up big time ahead of the hectic championship activity solely for them in April, but that’s shelved, too.
Cork’s anticipated return to contest a league decider would have ended an 11-year gap since they last appeared in a final.
That was the Division 2 showdown against Monaghan at a time, when Cork football had been through the wringer, ranging from strikes to relegation from Division 1A in 07 to consolidation in a truncated 2008 Division 2 campaign and now a final.
The 2009 final, which was a decade after the county’s last showing in a league decider (winning the Division 1 title), came against the backdrop of a recent joust between Cork and Monaghan a month previously.
That regular season game was played in the tight confines of Scotstown, a venue that suited the Ulster county more, but the wide expanse of Croker was to Cork’s liking on this occasion.
And it showed as Conor Counihan’s charges dictated matters for the majority of a game, lacking any sort of bite, running out 1-14 to 0-12 winners at the final whistle.
The opening quarter reflected the main difference between the sides as Cork raced 0-5 to 0-1 ahead and Monaghan were struggling.
Paul Kerrigan started the scoring sequence and it was carried on by Daniel Goulding and Donncha O’Connor in an inside line, which posed a lot of problems for the under-pressure Monaghan rearguard.
All this stemmed from Cork marking their authority and control of the key areas and winning all the major head-to-head battles.
Ballygarvan’s Ger Spillane dominated from centre-back, giving Paul Finlay a torrid time, while the midfield pair of Nicholas Murphy and Alan O’Connor bossed Dick Clerkin and Owen Lennon.
Not only that but Spillane, along with wing-back Graham Canty raided forward to land points, as well, just two of the nine players who contributed to Cork’s tally.
Monaghan enjoyed some dominance in the third quarter after making a raft of changes at the break, but Cork soon sorted matters.
The displays of Ray Carey and Anthony Lynch ensured that much-sought-after goal that Monaghan required failed to materialise.
Cork had stretched their advantage to 0-13 to 0-7 approaching the hour before the game’s only goal, five minutes from the end, settled any doubts about the outcome.
Kerrigan’s pace outstripped defenders along the right before he picked out Nemo Rangers colleague James Masters, who netted courtesy of a sweetly-struck drop-shot.
Scorers for Cork: D Goulding 0-5 (0-1 f), J Masters 1-0, D O’Connor 0-3 (0-1 f, 0-1 45), P Kerrigan, G Canty, G Spillane, P O’Neill, P Kelly, A O’Connor 0-1 each.
CORK: A Quirke (Valley Rovers); A Lynch (Naomh Abán), M Shields (St Finbarr’s), R Carey (Clyda Rovers); G Canty (Bantry Blues), G Spillane (Ballygarvan), N O’Leary (Cill na Martra); A O’Connor (St Colum’s), N Murphy (Carrigaline); P O’Flynn (Ballyclough), P Kelly (Ballincollig), P Kerrigan (Nemo Rangers); J Masters (do), D O’Connor (Ballydesmond), D Goulding (Eire Og).
Subs: P O’Neill (Aghada) for O’Flynn, J Hayes (Carbery Rangers) for D O’Connor, F Goold (Macroom) for A O’Connor, C McCarthy (O’Donovan Rossa) for Goulding and J Miskella (Ballincollig) for Kelly.