THE Munster final was back on Leeside for the first time in four years on Saturday evening but normal service was resumed at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
The stadium might have been revamped but Cork football is going to take longer to get back on track after one of the most humiliating losses to Kerry of all time.
The weather was glorious, the crowd was a sizeable 27,674 weren’t likely to upset the odds, and the atmosphere was lively in the opening 10 minutes but otherwise, this was a car crash from a Cork perspective.
It was 2-1 to 1-2 to Ronan McCarthy’s side in that opening period, and though Seán O’Shea had thundered a decent opportunity against the crossbar, there was the makings of a lively battle. However, that turned out to be a mirage in the sun as it dropped over the showgrounds end. Cork fell apart from there.
They were wiped out in every sector. Kerry rattled off 3-18 but lobbed efforts short as well and squandered openings to raised green flags too.
They had the bodies in the middle third to clog up Cork’s efforts to run ball from deep but also the skillset to kick around Stephen Cronin who was screening the full-forward line.
Paul Geaney ran riot yet again, to the tune of 2-5.
And while James O’Donoghue and David Clifford only added another four points from play between them, they had Cork’s full-back line under severe pressure.
A handful of the Cork players emerged with their reputations unscathed. Ian Maguire created a few chances on the overlap, Luke Connolly and Mark Collins tried to create until the bitter end, Mark White prevented the concession of even more goals, and Ruairí Deane, who was Cork’s best performer in his 32 minutes on the field.
He set up two goals and ran at Kerry with conviction until his ridiculous black card.
The refereeing was poor but it couldn’t be used to excuse Cork’s ineptitude. To go 39 minutes without scoring at any level is scandalous.
Their eventual total of 2-4 included points in the closing stages from sub Peter Kelleher and Collins. To put it in context, Cork only scored one more than Waterford’s haul of 0-9 in a 27-point home drubbing at the hands of Monaghan on Saturday afternoon.
That’s Division 4 Waterford who many feel would be better off in a B or C grade tiered championship.
To be fair to Ronan McCarthy and his management – and I appreciate that’s not easy right now – they were aware this was a showdown between a top four outfit with their sights on the All-Ireland and a middle of the road Division 2 side. That’s the harsh reality of where Cork are at.
The run of U21 dominance from 2004 to 2016 hasn’t really left the Rebels with much of a team. They clicked in the Munster semi-final, and hopefully they can get back to the basics of that showing in the next round, but this group doesn’t have the confidence or consistency to mix it with the contenders for Sam Maguire.
Cork can still salvage their season if they defeat their opponents in the back door. A victory will put them into the Super 8s, in the same group with Donegal, Dublin and Roscommon, or whoever beats them the next day.
Cork might yet survive the next test – though if they draw Mayo, Tyrone or Monaghan they hardly will. However, they’d want a dramatic improvement not to get torched by the Dubs.
A Cork-Dublin clash could be in the Páirc as one of the three Super 8 ties will be at home. In theory that would be a memorable occasion.
Yet how could you convince the Leeside public to come out in force after what they’d to endure on Saturday?
Look, Cork aren’t as bad as they were here. Kerry have marquee men in the likes of David Moran, Paul Murphy and Geaney, while Jack Barry, Clifford and Seán O’Shea as good as any young players in the game. Eamonn Fitzmaurice is a shrewd tactician and he exploited all of Cork’s weaknesses.
The Rebels’ backs are to the wall. How they respond is up to them.
They won’t have too many fans in their corner but it didn’t prevent them taking Mayo to extra-time last summer. Somehow they need to recapture the same spirit and gung-ho approach they displayed then on July 7.
Bouncebackability was a buzzword there for a while.
Cork need to find a trampoline.