Review of the Year: Cork reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals after an eventful 2022

The Rebels went from a walking tight rope near the foot of Division 2 to meeting the Dubs at Croke Park
Review of the Year: Cork reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals after an eventful 2022

SLIPPING: Cork's Kevin Flahive pressures David Clifford of Kerry. Pic: James Crombie, Inpho

CORK football looked to have spent most of 2022 dangling at the cliff edge, seemingly about to topple over before pulling back in the nick of time.

And still when a troubled season eventually ended, Cork had managed to reach the quarter-finals of the All-Ireland as well as retaining their division 2 status and all its important privileges.

Under the circumstances it was actually quite an achievement given the upheaval with an injury list as long as the Carrigrohane Road on top of a change in manager midstream after Keith Ricken had to step aside for health reasons and John Cleary took over on an interim basis before handing a three-year term.

On top of the demanding challenges on the pitch, the players heaped even more stress on themselves by imposing a media ban over the on-going row between their representative body, the GPA, and Croke Park over expenses.

Then, they had a word in the ears of management for their support so in the end you had the ridiculous situation of county board officers stepping in to fill the gaps afterwards, a position they hardly relished with any glee, but it was a case of needs-must at times.

And players and management then brought even more attention on themselves with their stance of not budging from Pairc Ui Rinn for their Munster semi-final with Kerry after provincial council officials attempted to switch the game to Killarney for a bigger pay day.

Yet, their position was justified and for three-quarters of a tie played in glorious conditions with a terrific atmosphere Cork went toe-to-toe with their great rivals, who still managed to win by a dozen points in a goal-less affair, but the home team had lost little in the eyes of the football public.

The year began with the McGrath Cup, Cork reaching the final after wins over Clare in Milltown-Malbay and Waterford at Pairc Ui Rinn to set-up a meeting with Kerry, who won comfortably.

The importance of division 2 couldn’t be stressed enough, especially in maintaining that position for a crack at the Sam Maguire Cup with relegation sending teams into the unchartered territory of the Tailteann Cup instead.

And Cork juggled that threat from the off, collecting just one point from five of their seven games to increase the heat, losing away to Roscommon, Derry and Meath and Galway at Pairc Ui Chaoimh as well as drawing 1-13 apiece with Clare at home.

It left everything hinging on the outcome of their final two games against fellow strugglers Down and Offaly.

Cork picked up their first win with a 1-16 to 1-12 victory at home to Down, Steven Sherlock contributing 1-7, which meant they only needed to avoid defeat in Tullamore to stay up.

A feature of the campaign was opponents rising to the challenge of facing Cork and Offaly were a case in point, scoring 1-20, which would be enough to win most games and outscoring their visitors 0-12 to 0-4 in a 20-minute spell in the second-half.

Cork trailed by a point in injury-time, but Cian Kiely and Sherlock came to the rescue with critical late scores and the sense of relief at the final whistle was obvious, a close call though getting there in the end.

Lady Luck had deserted Cork for most of the season. She showed her face, though, at a most welcome stage, when the draws for the All-Ireland qualifiers took place, ensuring an important home tie against Mickey Harte’s Louth first up.

It was a mad-cap encounter, Louth parking the bus in front of their goal before having a right go in a frantic final, Cork eventually prevailing by four points, 2-12 to 2-8, the goals from Colm O’Callaghan and captain Brian Hurley.

Another home tie against Limerick provided more encouragement thought it was close, Cork ahead by just two points before a goal from a Hurley penalty calmed nerves and eyes on Croker to face the mighty Dubs.

Few, if any, gave Cork any hope of causing an upset though their first-half display suggested otherwise, turning around three adrift, when they might have been closer and even in front.

The second-half, though, was completely different, Dublin winning by 11 to close out a difficult 2022 for the Rebels.

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