LAST Sunday was a very, very special day.
We'd been hoping that the last few games showed that Cork hurling was back but winning the Munster title proved it, especially with the minors hurling so well in the first game.
No one is getting carried away. The days of a team dominating like Kilkenny did are probably over and Cork still have to go up to Croke Park now next month and prove themselves all over again, but Cork are on the ladder again as a top team.
There weren't too many predicting that at the start of this season. Like we knew Cork were on the track to be in the mix but they're well ahead of what we even hoped.
Now for me the issues in Cork hurling were being exaggerated anyway over the last few years. This was Cork's third Munster final appearance in five seasons and Patrick Horgan was sent off in the one we lost. We were a puck away from winning that 2013 All-Ireland, and had been a few league finals too.
It wasn't like Cork were miles off the pace.
I think what was so frustrating for the supporters was that some of the defeats in the last few years were bad ones, getting hammered really, and that does fierce damage to confidence. That bit of Cork cockiness is back now, but that's because Kieran Kingston has these lads hurling the way Cork people love. It's skillful hurling, there's pace to it, young fellas just going out and showing what they're about.
The young guys had been terrific, really terrific, Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Colm Spillane especially last Sunday, but Shane Kingston and Luke Meade have been class as well. They've put a pep in the step of all the older players and you can see it the way Patrick Horgan and Conor Lehane have been playing.
There's no waiting around the ball up front anymore but that's because it's quality ball, coming in early. Look at Alan Cadogan, he was just flying it against Clare because he knew the ball was on the way, at pace, and he was able to take off into space.
He was the Man of the Match on Sunday, but Conor Lehane was banging over the points against Tipp and Waterford, Seamie Harnedy had a great game in the semi-final as well. Kingston and Meade got 1-7 between them against Tipp. Cork aren't relying on one forward and that's vital for any good team.
Patrick pushed Cads really close for Man of the Match and to overtake Christy Ring as Cork's all-time championship scorer was an incredible achievement. We sometimes forget just how good Hoggy is because there's huge expectation on him in every game. He has the odd bad game, like anyone, but never really on the big days. That's when he's at his best actually.
The 2013 All-Ireland final, Munster semi-final and final in 2014, Munster final last Sunday... massive performances. It's not just that he's getting scores, it's the timing of them. They're crucial points – just like the Glen's county finals over the past couple of years, stepping up when the heat is on.
The young lads changed the landscape. No doubt about it, but Patrick and the others are still the leaders.
Look at the way he finished off the score after Cahalane drove out from the edge of the square. We were all out of the seats shouting 'go on Damian, go on', but there was real composure in that move, he popped it to Luke O'Farrell, Luke just gave it to Hoggy... bang, over the bar. Fabulous for the supporters and the players.
Kingston deserves absolutely massive credit. He has created an atmosphere that allows the hurling to flourish and the fans have completely got behind that, the same way the players have bought into it.
Hats off to every single one of them. Players and management. Kingston knows about every aspect of Cork hurling. Maybe it's because his own sons Shane and Conor are young guys but he has seen so much hurling at every level, his finger is completely on the pulse.
He's a gent too. He's time for everyone and let's not forgot what a day it was for his whole family, the Kingstons are real Cork hurling people. They just love their hurling, proper Cork hurling.
Kieran put a brilliant backroom team in place. He delegates. Trusts in others, in young players. That takes courage.
Pat Ryan has been outstanding as a coach. Look at the way they are hurling. Sully, The Rock, he's just iconic on the sideline. John Meyler and Pat Hartnett bring that steel too.
There's a great connection between the U17s, the minors, the U21s, the seniors. This 'culture' of Cork hurling is being talked about and written about, but it's come from the top down.
I loved the way the minors hurled last Sunday. It said a lot that every mate of mine up in Thurles was heading away from the pub early to make the minor game. No one was waiting to just slip in for the last 20 minutes.
There was a great crowd at the replay against Tipp and that set the tone for Sunday then. Everyone expected a big performance but they're a young team and you might not always get it, I know myself having been a minor selector.
Denis Ring is a serious operator, he had the lads well tuned in. Johnny Dwyer is the coach and they hurled outstandingly. Classy stuff.
The fans got behind them, fair enough, but that's because they got the crowd on side. Again, it was real Cork hurling.
The pace and scores the crowd just love. Evan Sheehan, Brian Turnbull, Daire Connery, savage hurlers.
What I thought was brilliant too was the spread of lads involved. You'd those city fellas, but the likes of Conor O'Callaghan from Dromtarriffe too. He was good on Sunday but absolutely terrific against Tipp in both games. Attacking the ball from corner-back.
I'd say his club was very proud last weekend.
Cork hurling can't be isolated to one region. It has to be a blend.
The city hurlers might be a bit faster, more mobile, the country lads more robust, hardier. You go back to 1999 we'd Fergal McCormack from Mallow, Timmy Mac, Castlelyons, Mark Landers and Deano from Killeagh, if someones good enough they can come from any club.
The Rebel Óg system is really starting to pay off. The Development Squads start on a regional basis so it's tapping into the whole county. I love city hurling obviously but that's vital.
The U21s are out now tomorrow against Waterford and I'd say there will be a right good Cork crowd at it. It could be a tricky one, they'd love to shut up the Cork lads, but even if the U21s don't win it won't damage the buzz. There will be a mad crowd up in Dublin on August 13.
Cork need to keep their feet on the ground though. I remember 2014 well and we just never performed at all as Munster champions against Tipp.
Kieran has the right idea now sending them back to their clubs. I spoke to a few of the players on Sunday night and they couldn't wait to play again. It should keep the form going and hurlers want games, you stay sharp and when you're out with the club you're a different banter with your own.
I'd say the crowds will be out next weekend. To catch the lads playing in club games, grab a few words, a photo with the kids. That's a real sign Cork are flying.
Like I said special times.