WHEN the attendance at Saturday night’s Munster final was called out, 18,265, the lowest since 1983 where Cork and Kerry were concerned, for a few bright, shining moments the possibility existed that the outcome might be the same as it was back that year, a home win.
That was the year of Tadhgie Murphy’s last-gasp goal that sent the Cork fans in the 17,553 attendance into raptures.
However, this time it was not to be and the Kingdom pushed on in the final minutes to make it title number 81 in the province.
The low attendance was surprising and disappointing because one would have thought that with no home involvement in the hurling final the following week, a few more might have turned up.
And, despite the trouncing that was handed out by the old foes a year earlier, there had been a feelgood factor around the place all week and the team had performed well in the semi-final against Limerick and in a couple of challenge games.
Now, taking any great notice of what transpires in challenge games can be very misleading but in this instance it proved to be a decent indicator of what might be coming from this Cork team.
However, when Kerry burst forth in the opening sequences and took a commanding lead there must have been a fear that here we go again, a repeat of what came to pass a year earlier.
Even at half-time, when Kerry led by six points, there was no great optimism around the place and it was assumed that Kerry would drive on and record another convincing victory.
This time it didn’t happen, however, and Cork’s display right to the last whistle was a case of there being at last something for the home fans to take away.
The shackles had been removed from the torture chamber that they had found themselves in 12 months earlier, replaced by a serious amount of pride in the team that had taken their opponents all the way to the wire.
It was very much a case of the team and management telling those who stayed away, oh ye of little faith.
At the same time maybe we should be mindful that a Saturday night for a provincial final is not ideal for everybody, certainly not those from the footballing strongholds of the Beara and West Kerry.
It’s a hell of a long way home from the Centre Park Road or the Monaghan Road to those places at around nine o’clock on a Saturday night.
Everything in life changes but except maybe for a replay, the Munster football final was reserved for a Sunday.
Munster football final day, particularly in Killarney, was more than just a football match, it was a pilgrimage for both sets of supporters who mingled together for hours before the throw-in.
It was a day out, could you say that Saturday night is a night out.
Anyway back to the game and for us hurling snobs it was thoroughly enjoyable, Cork regaining immense pride in their heroic performance and as one great football man said to me outside afterwards, one that maybe got away from us.
But this time all is not lost and the job of the management now in the next 10 or 12 days is to instill more belief into those players and that they should not really fear any opposition in the qualifying game that will determine whether or not they make the Super 8s.
That would have been Ronan McCarthy’s goal at the start of the season and it certainly, maybe with a bit of luck involved, can be achieved Of course, at the end of the day, or should that be night, only a small step has been taken and one hugely encouraging display does not change everything.
But foundation blocks are being laid on all fronts with the big ball, the minors set the tone on Saturday night with a very encouraging performance of their own against a team that had hammered the daylights out of them a few weeks earlier.
For that riposte, Bobby Dwyer and his selectors deserve lots of credit and they too must now go out and build on that performance against the Ulster champions..
The performance of the U20s in the recent John Kerins Development Cup was encouraging too and maybe there’s better to come from them in the championship.
For too long now, Cork football has been a poor relation to the hurlers but there is more awareness now in the corridors of power of what needs to be done. Conor Counihan’s appointment as Director of Football was a very important development.
And that is what’s required, getting more people of that calibre involved, former players who might be delighted to come on board if they were asked.
Years upon years ago this observer suggested the appointment of Billy Morgan in the role that Counihan has now been appointed to.
What a choice Cork’s greatest football man would have been back then.
The world of the GAA is a changed landscape now and it’s as much about off the field as on the field, proper personnel to coach teams, better facilities and being able to generate revenue to pay for it all. It would be near impossible to match the template that Dublin have put in place but there’s no reason why the gap cannot be closed considerably.
A full time high-performance manager for both hurling and football will be in place shortly, that’s another major development.
There are great football personnel in this town and no matter how minimal their contribution would be, it would be worthwhile, men like Morgan, Larry Tompkins, Brian Cuthbert, Niall Cahalane, John Cleary and so on.
In 12 months Ronan McCarthy has begun the fightback. A Super Eight appearance would be a case of mission accomplished for now.
He too is one of those fine, footballing men for the future. A start has been made and there might be room for cautious optimism.
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