The list of things we know now that we couldn’t have been sure of as recently as the morning of May 21 (when Cork, let’s remember were considered fifth most likely from five for Munster and a win over Tipp was hardly discussed as a real option) is a reasonably uplifting one.
Cork can produce a batch of exciting, pacy, technically-accomplished young hurlers and there’s plenty more on the way.
After a season or two of not being able to locate a system that suited, Cork can perform in a style that’s both natural and effective and an enjoyable watch.
After a season or two of basic resignation to just not having the players to compete, Cork suddenly have potential All-Stars in defence and attack and there are individuals there now who could develop into championship-influencing hurlers of the year.
Patrick Horgan stepped up another level, Alan Cadogan made a leap, the young lads sort of hatched before our eyes.
Cork can mobilise a feelgood following pretty quickly and there is a sense of wanting to be involved again in Cork hurling, of fans and players and coaches and just everyone in Cork wanting to be part of the journey.
The list of things we know now that we couldn’t be sure about last Sunday morning is the more sober, realistic one.
There is a limit to youthful vigour and Cork don’t yet have the game know-how as a group to deal with full-on ferocious intent of a serious team, a team in year four of a project compared with Cork in year one (we’re calling 2016 year zero as it was more of a reboot than an actual start of the process).
Cork doesn’t quite yet have the individual who can grab an All-Ireland semi-final like an Austin Gleeson or with the big-game temperament of a Kevin Moran.
If Cork were right in this up until Gleeson’s moments of genius, there were never a feeling in the game that Cork were dictating the terms or had anything approaching control of things.
Pretty much everything that Cork didn’t want to happen took place.
Anthony Nash’s puck-out was attacked and Cork just weren’t able to find enough possession in space from restarts to construct scoring positions — one puck-out near the end of the first half stands out especially, where the goalkeeper spent maybe 13 or 14 seconds scanning for options before locating Shane Kingston out on the left wing but the spaces were so restricted (excellently in fairness) by Waterford bodies that the ball was forced out of play.
Two other puck-outs to the left wing ended with a ball over the line and Seamus Harnedy being smashed for a turnover and it was just in keeping with the overall feeling throughout the pitch that Cork players in possession were always unable to find space to really do exactly what they wanted to with the ball.
Basically, Cork were hustled and harried out of any rhythm. The forwards couldn’t get ball out in front or to the sides and contested ball wasn’t sticking — those late balls lobbed in but won cleanly by Darragh Fives told a story.
The fact that Chris Joyce was robbed for the game-changing goal was in keeping with the tone.
And of course, the sending-off, reducing Cork to 14 men against one team who create an extra man around the field extremely effectively anyway and who were able to fully commit into the spaces in both defence and attack without fear of being caught short anywhere.
Waterford got the goals they always needed to tot up a winning score and that perfect storm of circumstances and details made it more or less impossible for Cork to win in the end.
So, one of the more thrilling, complete Munster campaigns for a long time, three stunning performances from four and then an acceptably explainable defeat to end ought to add up to a decent year in isolation.
How it’s seen in the broader picture will depend on how it’s followed on, whether it’s the base starting point for development or not.
Waterford were ready to win last Sunday and against Kilkenny when they hadn’t been quite there mentally last year.
Cork don’t need the upheaval of changes in management or the insecurity of any changes in emphasis on how they go about playing the game this winter or next spring.
Cork need stability now, a doubling down on ideas and positions so the necessary composure can be added to the mix with the energy.
Some kind of succession and forward thinking would be worthwhile to ensure there’s a proper plan in place that’ll develop the younger players, to make sure that say Mark Coleman and Luke Meade at 24/25/26 have kicked on again from the players that they are now.
The forward unit and attacking plays maybe need a slight rebalancing for days where the clean possessions don’t flow as easily and the search for goals goes on.
More than anything the wins in Munster and the emergence of Kingston/Coleman/Meade/Fitzgibbon/the minors have grown a hope that there are people involved in Cork hurling across the system that know what they’re doing, and that the Cork hurlers can be something to believe in again.
After a long old time searching for some hints on what might be coming, finally some proof.
We’ll take that for now.