UNFORTUNATELY, it wasn’t a repeat of the 1983 All-Ireland football final, when Dublin finished with 12 men and still beat Galway (who were down to 14).
The dozen still standing became known as ‘The 12 Apostles’ and it was a game which only grew in folklore as the years passed, especially as the Dubs didn’t claim Sam Maguire again until 1995.
Even if Cork had beaten Donegal on Saturday, a home league game in Páirc Uí Rinn was never like to attract such attention, though if the victory was a springboard for avoiding relegation and a good championship, then it might have retained some notoriety.
Unfortunately, the game slipped away from Cork as first captain Ian Maguire departed with injury – unfortunately, just as Cork’s last sub, Seán Powter, was coming on for Kevin Crowley – then Mark Collins was sent off with a second booking and Luke Connolly was also forced off injured.
As Donegal added points, Cork were forced to attack as they sought to salvage something and the visitors exploited the space, ultimately winning by seven points as Cork went scoreless from the 60th minute onwards.
The bottom line is that Cork must now to try to win in Armagh next weekend and hope that Tipperary can overcome Clare in Thurles. Such a combination would keep Cork up and send Tipp and Clare down, but a Clare victory would mean Cork are relegated as the Banner would have the head-to-head advantage, having won when the sides met in Ennis.
A pair of draws would also keep Clare up as they have a better scoring difference than Tipp and Cork, while the only combination that would see Tipp survive is a win for them and the failure of Cork to beat Armagh.
That Powter was Cork’s final sub was due to the fact that they had earlier been forced into a change due to injury, one overshadowed by the later departures. Goalkeeper Micheál Martin had had to be treated in the first half and early in the second period he succumbed, necessitating his replacement by Mark White.
An injury picked up by White in the Sigerson Cup had given Martin the chance to start against Meath and the win away to Tipperary and he retained the starting spot for Saturday, even with the Clonakilty man available again.
It was a long road back for the Nemo Rangers netminder, having played against Dublin under Peadar Healy in 2016 – a league campaign in which Cork used four goalkeepers – but left off the panel after that. He didn’t let the disappointment affect him as he won a second county SFC medal with Nemo in 2017 and earned his reward with a recall this year.
In that regard, the injury is terrible misfortune, especially as goalkeeper is such a specialised role and only one player can play there at a time. It’s often the case that the man in possession will hold on to the number 1 jersey unless injury, suspension or a pronounced loss of form intervenes.
Of course, that latter factor is not something anybody wants to see, with the sad reality being that goalkeepers are often remembered for their mistakes more than their good acts, similar to how a forward can miss five opportunities but still be the hero if he gets the winner.
Fingers crossed that Martin can make a quick recovery and challenge again, but for White it’s a chance to reassert himself after his time out, while Chris Kelly of Éire Óg, on the bench for Meath and Tipp, will presumably be involved again and look to show that he can step up if required.
For the rest of the Cork team, it’s win or bust in Armagh and the win may not even be enough if things don’t go their way in Thurles. It’s not the way many people saw the campaign transpiring but unfortunately, that’s the reality of the situation they find themselves in.
It doesn’t automatically follow that relegation would mean a bad championship campaign, but it will be difficult to pick things up for the summer. For now, all they can do is focus on getting the victory on Sunday.