WHEN the final whistle went at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday evening, many of the Cork players slumped to the ground.
It was a mixture of exhaustion, after putting in a huge effort, and disappointment at the outcome, having come so close to victory. As Kerry captain Gavin White collected the cup for a very underwhelming presentation — the Kingdom only care about All-Irelands, when it comes down to it — Cork gathered in conclave and then left the field.
As they did so, there was a loud and lusty reception from the Rebel faithful, who appreciated that, while victory wasn’t Cork’s, they had died with their boots on, giving it everything, having been given little chance of the win beforehand.
All too often in the recent past, the Cork football support has been left with a feeling of deflation after more than a few underwhelming performances, but Saturday gave an indication of a pulling- together by team and fans.
This was one of the stated aims of the five-year plan for Cork football, increasing the sense of identity and establishing a contemporary relationship with fans.
Obviously, the easiest way to do that is with good results underpinned by honest effort, with recognition for same following automatically.
Hopefully, another good result in the qualifiers, which would yield three more games for Cork in the Super 8s, would help to deepen that relationship.
If we’re being selfish from a press point of view, the five-year plan also includes the aim that “players and management engage positively with media requests for interviews and appearances” but sadly no player was put forward in the wake of Saturday’s loss.
We accept that it can be tough to talk to the press after a defeat, but if something is going to be included in a big-picture document, it shouldn’t just be there to pad out a word-count.
To be fair, manager Ronan McCarthy did speak to the media for 11 and a half minutes on Saturday evening and one of the things he was asked was about the upheaval caused by having to make three late changes to his starting line-up.
Cork had announced their team on Tuesday night, a positive development which harked back to the old days, but unfortunately, injuries to Thomas Clancy, Eoghan McSweeney, and John O’Rourke meant a revised panel had to be issued on Thursday.
While Cork often made late alterations during the Conor Counihan era, this time there was a genuine attempt to avoid any sharp practice.
“We don’t do dummy teams, basically,” McCarthy said, “but we were a victim of a system that has come in to stop teams naming dummy teams. I suppose the problem was we had two fellas in John O’Rourke and Eoghan McSweeney who we knew would be tight”.
“Then we had Tom Clancy, who went down on Tuesday and in years gone by you could wait till Thursday, see could they train on Thursday, and adjust on Friday.
“But the fact you have to name your 26 on Saturday, you are waiting on scans on Wednesday.
“Did it disrupt? A bit, but to be fair we said to the players we weren’t looking for excuses and we are not.
“It was a little setback, but we dealt with it.”
Being denied those three meant that there was a knock-on effect in that the depth was shallower in terms of substitutions, but Cork can take some consolation in having been the provincial runners-up to lose by the narrowest margin of the four finals.
Sunday’s Leinster and Ulster fare certainly didn’t set the pulse racing.
Obviously, that won’t count for much if they are to lose in the qualifiers, but there is at least some momentum to be harnessed and then the promise of a home game with Roscommon in the Super 8s if Cork get there.
It’s perhaps too dramatic to say that the future of Cork football hangs on a knife-edge, but there is definitely a good opportunity there to build on the recent good work and show that there is a bright future ahead for the county.