AS the players embraced on the field last Saturday evening and enjoyed a job well done, two Cork football supporters got chatting on the walk out.
“Jesus, I enjoyed that,” one ventured with a smile.
The other laughed in recognition of a feeling that hasn’t been around Cork footballers for a while.
You can’t underestimate a bit of feelgood.
One performance isn’t any sort of basis for getting carried away – Ronan McCarthy will know and emphasise this – and yet it’s hard to ignore that something just felt different here.
Past displays (second half v Tipp and the Mayo game in 2017) have been built on a sort of emotional reaction, a desperation.
This was more progressive, more controlled, more about setting down a statement of intent than fighting a cause.
Cork came to Thurles with a very straight-forward plan and went at it with purpose and conviction and plenty of the time that’s all anybody can ask for really.
Jurgen Klopp’s basic requirement for players when recruiting since his early days as manager is that they’re willing to work and run hard without question and that forms the starting point for his entire philosophy of high-energy football.
Ronan McCarthy wasn’t looking for anything like that chaos but he’s recognised a bunch of athletic players with legs and real speed around the middle third especially and got them to run as hard and break tackles and find spaces to get the ball to the scoring areas.
Cork moved the ball as quickly as possible to players moving at speed – it was obvious especially in that middle third of the field that the player in possession was always meant to have someone in support – and the angles of running were varied as well.
The ball was switched with kick-passes when necessary, Mark Collins and Sean White the most aware of this option.
Tactically Cork were quick to recognise Michael Quinlivan’s one-v-one danger and moved Stephen Cronin to cover. Defensively Cork were aggressive in contact and filled spaces in the scoring zone effectively.
The Salah-like flair was provided by Luke Connolly’s genius.
Little game details stood out. When Tipp’s Liam Casey got behind the defence for one-v-one in the first half it was Mark Collins chasing him down to get a tackle in, that willingness to run and work was important going backwards too.
Many of Cork’s scores had the same mix of powerful running and quick combinations.
For the first score, Mark Collins kick-passed the ball across the middle third to Aidan Walsh and as the ball was being kicked, Ruairí Deane had already started his run in support - by the time he arrived it was at savage speed and intensity and that’s the game Deane played for the entire 70 minutes.
Deane broke two tackles before handpassing to Luke Connolly who’d ran into space behind his marker.
Example two, Kevin Crowley took a ball from his goalkeeper on his own 21, kick-passed the ball down the wing and by the time Luke Connolly was shooting at goal down the other end it was Crowley closest runner in support, complete commitment to attack the spaces.
Luke Connolly took a shot for goal 20 metres out with Mark Collins and Tomás Clancy ahead of the ball having run in support.
Aside number one: Connolly used that shooting at goal technique where he kicks the ball high and almost side on, it went over the bar against Dr Crokes for Nemo and here it went over the bar too though it flashed to the net in the county final.
Aside number two: Colm O’Neill’s ability to sniff out a goal chance was pivotal but had nothing to do with running or work-rate and everything to do with movement off the ball and just an instinct for where to be.
Watch his goal again and you can see O’Neill pull across to the right and the ball fall perfectly into his path, despite the four or five Tipp defenders in the picture as well.
Other little details that meant big things.
At one stage of the first half Mark White smacked a kick-out into Kevin O’Driscoll’s hands out on the wing; maybe thirty seconds later the goalkeeper got a big thumbs up from O’Driscoll for the idea and the execution.
When Ruairí Deane got hauled down for a free at one stage, Ian Maguire came in and gave him a decent well-done slap on the back as credit for willingness to take the hit. At another break in play Maguire had a conference out in the middle of the field with some others in that middle eight, constantly focussed and aware.
Even post game felt right. Luke Connolly spoke positively of how great it was to be playing with Cork again and the buzz in the camp.
Ronan McCarthy referenced the hard work that’d been behind the performance. Nothing of proving people wrong or outsiders doubting their credentials, no need to mention that negativity here.
These aren’t massive things but they give a sense of togetherness. Rio Ferdinand often makes the point about winning teams celebrating goals together as an entire group, that it just contributes to that sense of everyone working towards the same end.
Cork had that kind of focus around them on Saturday night. None of which is to say that Cork are suddenly a final four prospect again.
A Munster final non-performance or a tough draw in a qualifier could expose vulnerability again all too quickly. Kerry would be more clinical than Tipp with those goal chances.
Other sides will target the stopping of runners like Deane and Maguire now and it remains to be seen how Plan A copes with the stress of an elite opposition.
But after the longest time looking for an idea of what Cork football is about we did get a sense of a coherent plan here, of a team that attacked and defended and just played like a proper unit and that believed in what they were doing.
We could have Powter and Kerrigan to add further pace and Brian Hurley is an unexpected bonus.
It’ll be fascinating to see how long this brightness can sustain the summer.