IT was dramatic but hardly surprising.
Knowing both these sides like we do, one of them was always going to tumble out of the championship courtesy of the sort of wound that spreads and festers over the long, dark winter months.
Dublin will be licking their wounds long after the evenings begin to lengthen once again. In fact, if yesterday’s defeat was reminiscent of any other in recent times, it was their Devon Loch loss to Mayo at the same stage in 2006.
They have now lost four All-Ireland semi-finals in the space of eight years by a combined margin of just five points. Different manager, numerous new players, different system – same bottom line.
That razor-thin margin between elation and despair was highlighted yet further when questions were raised afterwards as to whether Paddy Kelly’s 62nd-minute point had in fact dissected the posts at all (TV replays suggested it was legitimate).
It was merely one link in a chain which reeled Dublin back in after 50 minutes of football in which the capital side had comfortably held the whip hand.
Their lead may have been just four points prior to the general shift in fortunes in the last quarter but such a deficit carried far greater currency than usual on a day when scores and space were at such a premium.
Cork had, up until then, foundered on the Leinster side’s devotion to the defensive gods and a workrate that would make Brian Dooher blush but Dublin’s tank reached empty long before the final whistle.
As the game opened up, so did Cork. Though they kicked 13 wides, none were registered after the opening stages of the second-half. Like all good showmen, they had reserved their best numbers for the concert’s close.
Conor Counihan has spliced and diced his starting 15 for much of the summer thus far, so it was no surprise that one of his replacements proved to have such a defining influence on the game.
Colm O’Neill was hardly on the field 60 seconds before being rugby-tackled to the ground by Ross McConnell inside the Dublin area and Donncha O’Connor duly found the net – via a post – with the spot kick.
All three men would be central characters in the plot from there on in.
McConnell should have been awarded a second yellow before that indiscretion and he was guilty of more costly fouls before finally seeing red a minute from time.
His indiscipline was matched by far too many of his colleagues in that closing spell. O’Neill won two more frees in the scoring zone and O’Connor landed the last three points from dead-ball situations.
It was a gutsy finish from the Ballydesmond man who, like all too many of the Cork players, had earlier been guilty of the sort of wides that can crush the soul of a side searching for form.
Perhaps Dublin had sensed Cork’s vulnerability because they went for the jugular from the off. With a packed house for the first time this championship season and the August sun warming the Hill, it was pulsating stuff.
At first, anyway.
Dublin’s willingness to play on the counter-attack after taking their early lead was all too similar to the sort of ‘anti-football’ that was all too prevalent in South Africa in recent months, and the free count proves it.
Whatever about the aesthetic merits, it was an approach that took them to within a whisker of an All-Ireland final but it would have been a redundant philosophy long ago were it not for Bernard Brogan. Graham Canty had started at centre-back after all the ‘will he, won’t he’ rumours about his fitness during the week, but the Munster side’s defence was caught out badly by the summer’s deadliest finisher after just four minutes.
Though Brogan came into the game as the player of the year in waiting, he was somehow given five yards of space by Ray Carey and the Clyda Rovers defender was duly punished when the ball ended up in Alan Quirke’s net.
Michael Shields spent the rest of the game on Dublin’s dangerman but Bernard and Alan Brogan were proving impossible to contain in a first quarter which ended with Cork trailing by 1-5 to 0-4.
Cork were actually winning a cascade of possession, from short kick-outs in particular, but they were unable to fashion much with it. At times they resembled Space Invaders, shuffling side to side across the field in search of an opening.
The best they could do was slow Dublin’s momentum and break even which they did for the rest of the second half and an 11-minute period without a score of any description was symptomatic of the developing stasis.
That said, there were a few spells of hope for Cork going forward. Kelly and Paul Kerrigan were particularly busy, with the latter one of the few able to make penetrating runs through the Dublin defence.
One such Kerrigan burst ended with a point attempt rebounding off the stanchion of post and crossbar. Another decisive team move through the middle had ended with Pearse O’Neill’s shot barred from the net by Stephen Cluxton.
By half-time the gap was five points in Dublin’s favour and the afternoon’s pattern seemed set in stone on the evidence of the 10 minutes after half-time when Cork added liberally to their video nasty of wides.
That they were able to rid themselves of such a debilitating tendency at such a critical juncture was impressive but they were ushered into a third All-Ireland final in four years by an accommodating opponent.
Cork: Alan Quirke; Ray Carey, Michael Shields, John Miskella; Noel O'Leary, Graham Canty, Paudie Kissane; Alan O'Connor, Aidan Walsh (0-1); Paul Kerrigan (0-1), Pearse O'Neill, Patrick Kelly (0-2); Daniel Goulding (0-4), Ciaran Sheehan, Donncha O'Connor (1-5).
Subs: Eoin Cadogan, Nicholas Murphy, Colm O'Neill (0-1), Derek Kavanagh (0-1), Fintan Goold.
Dublin: Stephen Cluxton; Michael Fitzsimons, Rory O'Carroll, Philly McMahon (0-1); Kevin Nolan, Ger Brennan, Cian O'Sullivan; Ross McConnell (0-1), Michael Darragh McAuley (0-1); Niall Corkery, Alan Brogan (0-2), Bryan Cullen (0-1); David Henry, Eoghan O'Gara, Bernard Brogan (1-7).
Subs: Barry Cahill, Paul Flynn, Eamonn Fennell, Conal Keaney (0-1), Denis Bastick.
Referee: M Deegan (Laois).