Recalling Cork’s horror of 2003

The statistics are stark.

Recalling Cork’s horror of 2003

A 10-point defeat. To Limerick. At home. Just two points from play, and only one of those by a forward, with another attacker providing four frees.

In 2008, ’09 and ’10, Cork were criticised for just squeezing past Limerick, but in 2003 at Páirc Uí Chaoimh they could not even get near such an outcome, as Liam Kearns’ visitors signalled the beginning of the end of Larry Tompkins’ tenure with a 0-16 to 0-6 win.

Almost everything that could have gone wrong, did. Cork might have won had Brendan Jer O’Sullivan not been denied by Limerick goalkeeper Séamus O’Donnell early on, while in the closing stages Fionán Murray received a red card for lashing out at Muiris Gavin.

For Derek Kavanagh, the game represented his first championship start, and while he can look back now with some wry humour, it was no fun at the time.

“I can remember being named at midfield on the Thursday, and that’s when it all started to go wrong,” he said.

“In 2001 I had had a few sub appearances, but there was no pressure when you’re coming in like that, you catch a few balls and that’s fine. Then I had been off the panel in ’02, so when I was picked to start I built it up hugely in my head.

“I had missed a lot of the league so I probably felt under pressure to do well. The hype got the better of me and I flopped and there were other young fellas who came in and that happened them too.

“Overall, the team was a bad mix I think, there were a lot of Nemo lads in and out of the team because of our run in the club All-Ireland, it was disjointed and not very settled.”

Kavanagh points out, however, that while the game is viewed as a disaster from a Cork point of view, the victorious side deserve credit.

“You have to remember that Limerick were not a bad team,” he said.

“At that time they were close to their peak, they’d go on to run Kerry very close in two Munster finals.

“As well, they had beaten Cork at minor in 1998 and then at U21 in 2001, a lot of those guys were on the senior team and they were coming up against Cork players that they had already beaten.

“When you combine how well they were going with how badly we were going, it was like a perfect storm, they beat us by 10 points and it wasn’t an exaggeration of how much better they were on the day.”

Did Cork underestimate Limerick based on historical evidence?

“I can’t go back into my thought process of 10 years ago,” Kavanagh said, “but I’d imagine some of us might have been leaning on the crutch of tradition, and as a player you learn that that’s something that you can’t do.

“You think before a game against a ‘lesser’ team that the tradition might work against them, but the cliché of it all being on the day is true and nothing else matters.

“We went in thinking Cork always beat Limerick and that that’d be enough, even at half-time when we were five points down we were still expecting to turn it around, but then you get to the last 10 minutes and you’re still in a hole. That was when the panic started to set in, minute by minute.”

And yet, no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse. Four weeks later, Cork travelled to Roscommon and were beaten in the first round of the qualifiers, their season over on June 7.

Kavanagh feels they were in a downward spiral from which they couldn’t extricate themselves.

“You play a couple of challenge games or whatever but there’s only so much that you can recover,” he said.

“When you’re always together as a group, training every second day, you’re in a bubble and when things go bad it’s very hard to turn them around, so against Roscommon we were there to be beaten.

“I’ve experienced the opposite of that too, in 2010 when we were winning and going on weekends away and enjoying ourselves, you can’t stop that either. It was just in 2003 that things were stale and tired, it wasn’t necessarily anyone’s fault but that’s the way it was.

“Billy came in then the next year and though there wasn’t an immediate turnaround, it was probably the start of the journey to the 2010 All-Ireland.”

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