The Christy O'Connor column: Cork football has thrown off the shackles

The Christy O'Connor column: Cork football has thrown off the shackles
Mark Cronin of Cork in action against Peadar Mullan of Tyrone. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

LAST Sunday was one of those glorious days of rich celebration and deep satisfaction that Cork football has too rarely got to experience over the last decade.

There was a decent crowd in Tullamore and, for once, Cork football supporters dominated the attendance. That was largely down to the fact that Cork had two teams on show but so had Tyrone, who faced Kerry in an All-Ireland minor quarter-final.

Tullamore is a nice spin from Cork – especially west Cork – and it’s especially rare, even with two teams to support, that Cork would outnumber Tyrone supporters for an All-Ireland semi-final.

There is clearly a feel-good factor about Cork football again and Sunday proved how the players and supporters are surfing that tide of confidence and goodwill.

The sending off of Tyrone midfielder Joe Oguz midway through the second half had a big bearing on the outcome. But the odds on Cork chasing down a seven point deficit against – of all teams – Tyrone would have still been a long shot.

Yet Cork went for it. They pushed up on the Tyrone kick-out and, with the extra man, dominated possession, outscoring Tyrone by 1-6 to 0-3 in the final quarter. The manner of the comeback was all the more pleasing again with the subs bench contributing 1-5 from play.

It was no surprise that the majority of the Cork crowd made their way onto the pitch to bask in that warm afterglow of success, and in such a soul-enriching win.

The outpouring after the minor win wasn’t an intense, primarily because the crowd had thinned out by then, and mainly because the result was never really in doubt once Cork got control. Yet the pride and satisfaction levels were just as high. They had to be; any side which wins an Ulster championship has to be a serious outfit, but Cork dismantled Monaghan by 12 points.

The seniors Super 8s game against Roscommon tomorrow may be a dead rubber but their last three performances reignited the Cork footballing flame and the minor and U20s have continued to fan those flames ever since.

The momentum is just continuing to build. The minors will play in a first All-Ireland semi-final since 2010 next weekend. Depending on the Donegal-Mayo Super 8s game this evening, if Mayo were to win, they’ll more than likely play Dublin next weekend in front of a full-house in Croke Park.

With Cork playing Mayo, imagine the boost that would give the Cork minors if they featured on that curtain-raiser? Even if the minors aren’t on that undercard, they’ll still play on a huge stage, which will be massive for their confidence and development going forward.

The cards have also fallen nicely for the U20s. Confidence has to be sky-high after their displays against Kerry and Tyrone over the last two weeks. The fact that this final is on after the All-Ireland U-20 hurling semi-final is another huge boost, because Cork supporters should dominate the attendance again.

Hurling supporters can be notoriously snobby, especially when a football match is on after a hurling match, and they simply refuse to stay on and watch. Yet this is a Cork team in an All-Ireland final, one which has been playing a brand of brave and exciting football. 

In that context, the U20s should have a massive swell of support by the time the game starts. The buzz should be even greater again if the U20 hurlers have already beaten Kilkenny by that stage and advanced to their own All-Ireland final.

The U20 footballers have been fantastic but good leadership inspires people and the players are clearly playing with the confidence instilled in them by Keith Ricken and his management.

Ricken has been a breath of fresh air in how he has continually portrayed Cork football, especially in how he has always sought to remove the negativity that has appeared encrypted into Cork’s footballing DNA for much of this decade.

That has been evident in his interviews on TG4 and in his opinions on print. Ricken has spoken about appreciating the frustrations but never experiencing that negativity, or that if he did, Ricken just chose to “ignore it”.

The most revealing insight into that positive mentality was provided by Ricken prior to the Tyrone game.

“I am always of the belief that with young men you want to give them confidence and to teach them how to fly,” he said. “If you teach them how to fly, you don’t then shoot them down.

“Bringing them back down to earth (after the Munster final) is the last place, maybe, I want them. I want them thinking positively because what they achieved, they achieved themselves. I don’t think we should be punishing them on their achievements.

“We should be praising their achievements and they should bask in their achievements. But, also, use that achievement as a stepping stone.” 

 Cork clearly did against Tyrone. Ricken also spoke before that game about the flakiness of confidence after a big win, and that the real depth to any team’s confidence comes from the strength of unity, purpose and ambition within the squad.

“Then you are fairly confident that whatever the day throws at you, that you probably have the skillset to get over it,” said Ricken. “That is the confidence I hope our lads will have.” 

Cork certainly showed that against Tyrone, and they will bring a similar level of confidence into today’s final against Dublin. And the really positive feel-good factor around Cork football at the moment may give Cork that extra push to get over the line.

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