FOR Cork hurling to really be back as a force again, they need to consistently challenge for trophies.
Last summer the Rebels captured the Munster title in style, their swagger had returned. There was a buzz about the great game again on Leeside.
They've made this Sunday's provincial final and in the eyes of selector Donal O'Mahony, whatever the result against Clare, it proves they're on the right track for the coming years.
"One of the goals we set for the squad is that we want to become a 'championship team'. What we meant by that is we didn't want to get to a Munster final one year and then do nothing.
"I know there's expectation but we just have to be patient. There are a lot of young fellas there and to make the step up to senior level is massive. We're trying to explain 'you're going to have bad games but we're not going to throw you to the side, we'll trust you and stick with you'.
"You could see a bit of that in the U21 game (against Waterford) the likes of Darragh Fitz and Shane Kingston were after a tough six weeks, a lot of games. You just to trust them because they are good enough but they'll have dips in their form and come back again."
O'Mahony, who is used to working with promising hurlers in his role as Harty Cup manager of Christians, where he is deputy principal, explains the Cork fans must accept young guns like Fitzgibbon, Kingston and Mark Coleman will have off days. He feels the Rebels feed off the rabid backing of the supporters.
"There's a great bond with the hurling public in Cork. They're supporting us in numbers and I was told while ago it's a sell-out already.
"Even against in Waterford when Seamus (Harnedy) got the goal the cheer that went up from the crowd was fantastic. I think that comes down to the players giving performances in difficult situations and I think the crowd appreciate that.
"The players are very conscious of that. They were very conscious running out at Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the first home game."
The new round-robin format has been ideal for Cork, providing two home games at the revamped Páirc and guaranteed action in early summer.
"A special night for me was the Limerick game. 35,000 below in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, a great atmosphere, running out the tunnel, and the bond between the crowd and the Cork team at the moment is fantastic. There wouldn't be blood in your veins if you didn't appreciate that as hurling people.
"In Cork, we love our hurling and the home games have had a fantastic atmosphere, now we're heading to Thurles for a sell-out on the first Sunday in July. Where else would you want to be?"
The Bishopstown club man was involved in the backroom for two seasons with Kieran Kingston before answering John Meyler's call to become a selector this year. While the management began their stint with a league victory over Kilkenny, they laboured through the spring. They didn't let the pressure get to them though, staying focused on the important phase of the year.
"What we've changed a lot, going back to when Kieran was manager, was focusing on the process rather than outcome. While we were losing games we were able to take positives. Tim O'Mahony came through, Eoin Cadogan was back, and that kept us going through the defeats. We felt with all our players available we'd be competitive come championship and that's how it proved."
Cadogan featured in the win over Waterford, while Robbie O'Flynn made his debut against Clare being an injury and Tim O'Mahony has got runs from the bench. Otherwise, last year's team is back, with newcomer Seán O'Donoghue replacing Stephen McDonnell and the on-song Daniel Kearney up front in place of the absent Alan Cadogan.
"At the start we were trying to develop a panel. And we're happy we have unearthed a few new talents since last year, which was a challenge in itself as things went so well last year.
"It was difficult but we felt we've done that. I think you'll always have a solid core and you'll be inter-changing another four or five players. The fact we're in a Munster final, hopefully, it's working."
O'Mahony concedes, despite Cork's unbeaten run to date, they've had a few sticky moments.
"There are learnings in everything. We were happy in certain aspects of our play and concerned about others. We weren't overly happy with the performance against Waterford, even though they were difficult circumstances. It was a functional one. We needed to win it and we did to get to the Munster final.
"John is great at saying 'that's done and dusted, let's move on to the next challenge'. That challenge is the Munster final."
Cork have had the upper hand on Clare since 2013, four championship wins, but the Banner are in the groove now after three successive victories.
"You'd have to say Clare are the form team and they've got better and better after losing to us.
"We've been consistent throughout the year, we're concentrating on getting the best out of ourselves. If we get the best out of ourselves we're a match for anyone. We can't be worrying about Clare or this or that or the other thing.
"That platform has worked well for us throughout the campaign."