CORK were certainly under the cosh when goalkeeper Gavin Creedon (Kilshannig) stood over that fateful kick-out in the memorable Munster U20 semi-final win over Kerry at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Thursday.
Consider the back-drop. Cork hadn’t scored for 19 minutes and Kerry dictated to kick 1-4 without reply to restore parity at 3-11 apiece three minutes into the four added on for stoppages.
Cork were also at a numerical disadvantage because they had been reduced to 14 players following the second yellow-carding of corner-back Colm O’Donovan (Newcestown).
His foot-block on Paul O’Shea in the 51st minute was initially indicated a Kerry ’45, but Limerick referee Jonathan Hayes consulted his umpires and instead awarded a penalty which O’Shea converted confidently.
Not only that, but the Cork defender was shown a yellow card for the second time having picked up the original for a tug of the jersey which had to be considered a harsh decision at the time.
If there was to be a winner during normal time then all the smart money would have been on Kerry and Cork could have been excused for thinking extra-time would be their saviour.
Only the evening before great Connacht rivals Mayo and Galway needed penalties to resolve their semi-final out west and we wondered if Munster would finally have a repeat.
It’s been a feature of Cork’s participation in the provincial championships that none of their games have yet to be decided by penalties. Would this be the moment?
Keith Ricken’s charges, though, decided to sort it out themselves before any prospect of extra-time or even penalties.
By the time the ball left Creedon’s boot, 16 seconds elapsed before substitute Ciaran O’Sullivan, a club colleague, cut in from the right to fist over the winning point.
Creedon managed to remain calm and pick out captain Brian Hayes in the middle of the pitch with an accurate re-start. Credit the St Finbarr’s player for summoning the energy and will to spring above everyone and make a brilliant catch.
Hayes took a few steps before off-loading to O’Sullivan, who immediately hand-passed to substitute Sean O’Sullivan (Adrigole) as Cork attacked down their right.
The move continued at pace with O’Sullivan picking out the magnificent Conor Corbett (Clyda Rovers), who then fed the on-rushing Ciaran, who beat his marker for pace and then did the right thing at the critical time.
That nudged Cork in front at 3-12 to 3-11, ending that long barren spell without a score since Corbett’s second goal of the evening in the 46th minute which opened up a seven-point gap.
And there was still time for more drama because Kerry patiently created an opportunity for O’Shea even though Cork supporters in the 500 attendance were baying for the final whistle, believing time was up.
But, the Kerry forward missed his shot to the right of the posts and Cork were able to savour a famous victory.
Cork now play Tipperary in the final in Thurles next Thursday at 7.30pm after the Premier County defeated Waterford by 0-11 to 0-9 in the other semi-final.
It’s going to be a busy 48 hours for Hayes and Jack Cahalane, who was excellent, as both will be involved with Cork U20s hurlers against Tipp at the same venue on Tuesday evening.
And there will be a lot of sore bodies following a physically demanding game in humid conditions, including Aghada’s Diarmaid Phelan, who set the standard early on with some brilliant defensive play from centre-back.
Manager Keith Ricken was thrilled with the outcome.
“We got our result and we’re now on to the second stage,” he said.
“The players set the goals for this competition and that includes winning the All-Ireland which involves four steps.
“We’re delighted with the win while recognising that we’ve nothing won yet.” The normal reaction would be to bring the players back down to earth, but Ricken disagreed.
“It takes a long time to get 20 odd fellows to a high like that and why would you want to bring them back down?
“We have to assess our injuries because we’ve a lot of sore bodies and we still have a lot of learnings,” Ricken concluded.