PÁIRC Uí Rinn was not the place for sporting glamour on Saturday night.
The Cork footballers haven’t been fashionable for a while and the ladies footballers never get the support they deserve given their dominance of the sport in the modern era. A pretty decent crowd – considering Liverpool and Spurs were in the Champions League final – of 3,128 made the effort to get behind the Rebels and those in red were left satisfied after.
There was no wild emotion on a par with the Pool securing European glory, but it was job done for the Leeside faithful. And there was nothing wrong with that.
Both teams will be judged later in the summer. Ronan McCarthy’s charges by how they fare against Kerry at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in three weeks; Ephie Fitzgerald’s side in terms of All-Ireland glory. For now, they’re on the right road.
The opposition in both games was pretty poor and extremely negative but Cork played some decent attacking football all the same. The ladies footballers took a while to crank up the gears but still raised three green flags. The men were out of the traps like a pedigree greyhound and 3-6 to no score up after the first quarter.
Brian Hurley, Ruairí Deane, Eimear Scally, Saoirse Noonan, Orla Finn, Mark Collins and Eoghan McSweeney all caught the eye in an attacking sense. Libby Coppinger, Rhona Ní Bhuachalla, Áine T O’Sullivan and Steven Sherlock came off the bench to nail some cracking scores.
The Cork forward lines offered a combination of direct running and clever kick-passing, balancing the need for urgent incisive cuts and a bit of patience in the face of massed defences, rattling over some lovely points and a fistful of goals.
You’d never tire of Scally’s jinks and sidesteps and beautifully weighted deliveries from the foot. Noonan is a powerful presence for such a young footballer with a deceptively nimble touch, while Finn is a metronomic scorer in the mould of Valerie Mulcahy.
Brian Hurley had reportedly been on song at training and carried that form in here. Limerick might have stunned Tipp in the last round, and to be fair were unlucky not to nab a goal from the throw-in, but Cork were in a mean mood.
Hurley stitched two goals from Deane deliveries inside the first 10 minutes – with the Bantry man nailing a third goal himself as well as assisting three points. Injuries have plagued Hurley since his dazzling displays from 2013 to ’15, but he was moving well and only the post denied him a hat-trick from the penalty spot after Paul Kerrigan was fouled.
The Castlehaven native is a veteran but the new recruits impressed too. Douglas’ Nathan Walsh, a sticky marker, and Kevin Flahive, hugely energetic, shone as corner-backs, as did wing-backs Liam O’Donovan and Mattie Taylor, scorer of two late points.
Killian O’Hanlon was a powerful foil to Ian Maguire at midfield and Eoghan McSweeney kicked 0-3 and set up 1-1. The Knocknagree forward was a Cork minor in 2015 – part of a gifted group pipped by a point against Kerry in Tralee after extra-time – and since blossomed with club and Duhallow.
He relished the opportunity.
“The run we had with Knocknagree was massive, winning a junior All-Ireland, and then Duhallow last year as well, getting to a county final, that all helped. John Fintan Daly has been unreal. He’d do anything for any fella and has been a big help to me.
“You have to adapt. It’s different to club level. That’s the standard you’re trying to reach. It benefits me and it’s the same for Duhallow and Knocknagree.”
McSweeney is the latest hitherto unheralded forward from the division to make the step up after Donncha O’Connor.
“Playing with Donncha the last two years was great, especially last year. No better man to pick up some advice from.”
The 21-year-old lobbed over seven points in the league and is a rarity in Cork, capable of shooting accurately from distance while still foraging deep. He explained McCarthy and the Rebel selectors encourage him to go for it when the chance arises.
“Tonight it was the same game, the same posts, when you look at it that way. Of course, you’ve to track back and do a bit more at inter-county compared to club but when you’re training so hard you get used to it.”
On a personal level, the spring had been encouraging but McSweeney accepts relegation from Division 2 didn’t bode well for championship. All Cork could do was absorb the blows, including a fresh injury to Sean Powter, and gear up for summer.
"We put the league behind us and we were going well at training and in challenge matches. Now I know you don’t know if you’re getting a false read in challenge matches but we’ve been knuckling down. We’ll do that again now because we know all about Kerry.”
Being from the border, having gone to school in Rathmore, McSweeney knows what's coming down the tracks on June 22.
“We know ourselves what we’re capable of. It’s a completely different level and we’ll be preparing hard for what we’ll be facing.”