CORK is the greatest sporting county in Ireland, but absolutely nothing compares to the buzz generated by hurling.
From athletics to soccer, rugby to rowing, football to basketball, and beyond, Cork are capable of competing with, and often beating, the best. It's a source of great pride, arrogance in truth, for Leesiders.
It's that 'Corkness' spoken about so much over the past few months. But hurling... hurling is something else.
Last Sunday was just an incredible day in Thurles. The way the whole of Leeside has rallied behind this revamped team proved exactly why Cork is a hurling heartland.
Granted, it's easier to back a winning horse than a donkey – even one that can win a derby – but there has been massive support for the hurlers from the first league game against Clare at Páirc Uí Rinn and throughout the spring. There were no obvious signs that a Rebel rising was on the cards, even if the newcomers looked promising, but the Cork hurling faithful are exactly that, dedicated to the cause.
Times have been tough over recent years. Cork were a puck away from an All-Ireland final four years ago and Munster champions three years back, but some of their losses had been harrowing. Underage struggles had only compounded the sense of frustration.
Cork people just love their hurling though. They were willing to give Kieran Kingston's side the benefit of the doubt and there were 20,000 plus at the Tipp and Waterford games despite Cork being huge underdogs.
Chatting to former Cork captain Tomás Mulcahy last Friday, when the Glen man and Anthony Daly were pre-Munster final guests of The Shack on Oliver Plunkett St, he made that exact point. You can't call Cork hurling fans bandwagon jumpers given the attendance at the Munster opener when they were viewed from the outside as the worst team in the province!
Once the team started motoring, with Mark Coleman, Conor Lehane, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Alan Cadogan and the rest hurling out of their skins, the belief in the county turned into a tangible asset. There must have been 35,000 in red at Semple on Sunday. If that's not worth a few scores on the board...
The atmosphere was special from long before throw-in of the minor game and clearly the young guns fed off that and hurled with the style and pace that lit up the Town End Terrace. Evan Sheehan buried a couple of goals into that end and between red flares going off and the hardcore under the scoreboard chanting his name soccer-style, this must have been dream stuff for the Na Piarsaigh tyro.
He deserved it. Having struggled at times in Cork's other minor matches, he ripped it up in the provincial. And they wouldn't have been there at all if it wasn't for his nerveless free at the end of extra-time in the drawn semi-final against Tipp.
Everyone involved with the minors, from Denis Ring and John Dwyer at the helm, through the selectors and backroom, did superbly to get these players right for the final after an epic battle with Tipp just six days earlier. As for the players? Seriously, seriously talented guys.
Sean O'Leary-Hayes, Daire Connery, Brian Turnbull, Liam O'Shea, who has some eye for a pass, you could list them all. They've been an utter joy to watch, especially as the on-the-age players are living up to their promise of being tournament winners at U14, U14 and U16. They'll be hot favourites now against the winners of Dublin and Antrim, with Galway and Kilkenny on the other side of the draw.
You'd expect them to thrive at Croke Park.
They actually set the tone for the senior team, which was some going. Cork had a few scares against the Banner in the main event, missing a penalty and rattling the crossbar a couple of times, but they were hurled with significant self-belief.
Clare were unwilling to engage to Cork in a shootout, shut down most of Anthony Nash's long puck-outs, and tried to isolate the perceived weak-links in the rearguard, but still couldn't halt the Rebel juggernaut. Granted Patrick Horgan got a yellow for a really late hit, but the Clare defence cynically fouled from start to finish.
The outpouring of emotion generated by the Munster double last weekend was a reflection of how the mighty had fallen. In a way, it actually made the revival this summer special.
Cork have no divine right to be a dominant force in the greatest game in the world. We've learned that the hard way over the past decade, so it's important to savour these glory days.