Writes David Andrews
As the bells of the Angelus from St. Anne’s Church knelled across the sombre city centre on the first Sunday of November, the people of Cork were watching anxiously, at home, as their valiant men battled the Kingdom’s finest for a place in the Munster Football Final.
It needed a moment of leadership from Sigerson Cup winner Sean Powter, who was outstanding throughout, in the dying moments of normal time to win a crucial free bring the tie to extra time where Cork ran out winners thanks to an incredible last-gasp goal from Cork’s own prodigal son, Mark Keane. It was Cork’s first victory over Kerry since 2012 in the same tie played down the Páirc, Cork went on to claim Munster glory over Clare in the final that year. The Rebel County had its eyes set on reinstating themselves as the kingpins of Munster once again.
Kerry’s dominance in this province eroded the sharpness in the rivalry between these two sides, but Cork has enjoyed a lot of buoyancy in recent times. Backboned with a comprehensive promotion out of Division 3 and All-Ireland glory in recent years in both U20 and minor – a change in the tide was certainly on the horizon. Cork looked to build on their stunning win over Kerry, what stood ahead of them was seen by many as a less-heralded Tipperary side. Across the two sides, there were a total of 22 players who once wore the skull and crossbones of UCC. These included both captains, Ian Maguire of Cork, and Conor Sweeney of Tipperary. A true sentiment which added extra spice to the affair.
Tipperary went into the game honouring the memory of Tipperary native, Micheal Hogan who was one of the 14 killed by British forces during a challenge game of his local club, Grangemockler and Dublin. The Premier County wore replica white and green kits to mark the 100th year anniversary of Bloody Sunday. They featured the date of the tragedy and an image of Hogan, who was from Grangemockler, on the sleeve. It must be said reaching a Munster final is no easy feat, along with the added motivational element of honouring those of Bloody Sunday – Tipperary was not going to give it easy to Cork. Tipperary honoured the memory of Micheal Hogan in style, running out eventual winners on a scoreline of 0-17 to 0-14, claiming the Premier County’s first Munster SFC title in 85 years.
There was fear that the occasion might get the better of the Tipperary outfit. But there was little indication of that in the close to 80 minutes of football that was played in ideal conditions on Leeside. From the outset, they looked comfortable. The lead they fashioned in the 27th minute was never surrendered. It was an emotional performance from the Tipp side, who reminded the nation that they are not just a hurling county. Cork can look back at this with regrets, they looked nothing like the calm, structured side that haunted Kerry just a fortnight previous. Tipp stalwarts stepped up to the plate on the day and took the game to Cork. Freedom in the way Tipp attacked Cork was the difference. Tipperary operated a running game and found their scoring forwards, something Cork were often found wanting for on the day. Micheal Quinlivan, Colin O’Riordan, and Liam Casey, the trio who would not have been available to David Power should this game had gone ahead in the summer, played pivotal roles in their team’s victory.
Cork can look back with a long list of “what-ifs”, the biggest being the loss of their man of the match against Kerry, Sean Powter. But at the end of the day, Cork are just not there yet. As a Cork supporter, it can be easy to throw them under the bus after this defeat, what people do not see is the journey this group of players are embarking on. Before the Munster final defeat, Cork had won eight games on the trot. Cian O’Neill’s addition can be seen as a major plus for Cork. He is regarded as one of the best in what he does and I don’t think he or Ronan McCarthy will surrender their positions at the helms of this defeat. If anything it will be fuel to the fire to go one step further next season. Paul Kerrigan deserves an honourable mention for his service to Cork over the years. A true Cork legend who gave his all every time he put on the jersey. He leaves behind a reputable impact for the next generation of Cork players to aim to surpass. Exciting times ahead for the Rebel County.