After an hour of stomach-lurching drama, it fell to 19-year-old Diarmuid Murtagh to separate two counties dominant in their respective provinces of late, but desperate to frank that form on the national stage.
Roscommon could not have wished for a better man.
The trainee primary school teacher had already shot the lights out for an hour. Four points had been claimed from play and five from frees. Three wides and another effort dropped into the keeper’s arms but did little to lessen his impact.
He saved the best until last, making light of the fervour that had enveloped the ground just moments earlier when Cork’s Dan MacEoin blasted a 13-metre free to the net to leave the game on the brink of extra-time.
Murtagh was the coolest man in town.
“If you think too much about it you’re going to miss it,” he explained later. “I just thought of it as if I was taking a free in the warm up or if the game was 0-0 to 0-0. That is the approach I took. Thankfully it went over in the end.”
Roscommon would have never forgiven themselves if victory evaded them. Dominant almost all afternoon, they had fallen victim to three second-half sucker-punch goals from Cork and yet their response each time was emphatic.
They scored four of the next five points after Mark Sugrue’s first goal, hit back with a goal and a point after Alan Cadogan hit Cork’s second and landed the final blow through Murtagh on the back of Cadogan’s unlikely third. Cork could have had few complaints as they boarded their coach on Fr Browne Avenue in Portlaoise as the second game between Dublin and Cavan changed ends: another All-Ireland series having slipped through their fingers.
Nine times they won the Munster Championship at the U21 grade this last 11 seasons and only twice, in 2007 and 2009, did they build on those baubles by capturing the biggest crown of them all.
It is a poor return and, though they voiced complaints about time-keeping and refereeing in general afterwards, they knew even then they were very much the architects of their own downfall.
Cork had started promisingly, the sight of centre-back Sean White storming through the middle with ball in hand epitomising the approach they would take for most of the afternoon. They were 0-4 to 0-3 ahead after 10 minutes but their next score wouldn’t arrive until moments before the interval as their one-dimensional approach played into the hands of a Roscommon side whodefended in numbers and struck on the break.
Time and again Cork stitched a string of hand passes together only to lose possession in the congested Roscommon half. Just as worrying was the fact they were being outfought as well as outplayed and out-thought.
Two players were sacrificed shortly before the interval but it could have been any of the other 12 outfield players. Micheal Martin’s splendid save from Donie Smith after 12 minutes exempted him from much of the blame.
It was Roscommon’s failure to find the net in the first-half that kept Cork in the game. The two-man full-forward line of Murtagh and Donie Smith were creating havoc and it was all Stephen Cronin and Jamie Davis could do to keep the damage to a minimum.
Quick, diagonal balls into acres of space severed the Cork defensive line almost at will and the spread of scorers spoke eloquently for the multi-directional danger. By the end, eight Roscommon men had scored to just four from Cork. To their credit, Cork responded as they had to after the interval. Ian Maguire began to exert more influence at midfield while Sugrue, MacEoin and Cadogan finally found the opportunities to demonstrate their obvious talent.
Hard-running and short passing still framed their approach but Cork finally bought into the virtues of variety with the odd long, high ball and low punt thrown into the mix to keep Roscommon’s defence honest.
“Cork had a purple patch in the second-half, but, thankfully they just didn’t get enough to beat us,” said Murtagh. “You have to give great credit to the lads out the field. Thankfully our midfield got the ball.”
It made for an epic affair. For Cork, there is the unavoidable sense of an opportunity spurned. Eight of the side that fell to Galway by three points in last year’s final took part yesterday. Four was the number who earned Sigerson Cup medals with UCC earlier this year.
Like Cork, Roscommon have invariably had the better of their compatriots in their province, but deliverance has escaped them on the two occasions, in 2010 and again two years later, when they contested on the national stage.
Maybe this time it will be different.
Scorers for Cork: D MacEoin (1-6, 1-2fs), M Sugrue (1-3, 0-1f), A Cadogan (1-2), S Kiely (0-1).
Scorers for Roscommon: D Murtagh (0-10, 6fs), U Harney (1-1), T Corcoran (1f, 1 45), E Smith (0-2 each), R Daly, C Kilcline, M Healy, D Smith (0-1 each).
CORK: M Martin; J Davis, C Dorman, S Cronin; B O’Driscoll, S White, K Crowley; K Fulignati, I Maguire; M Sugrue, K O’Hanlon, S Kiely; D MacEoin, J Corkery, A Cadogan. Subs for Cork: K Histon for Fulignati; K Kavanagh for O’Hanlon (both 27); S Ryan for Corkery (48); K McIntyre for Kiely (60).
Subs for Roscommon: J Earley for Healy (61).
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow).