Twice they’ve been subjected to stern examination, both times they’ve come through with an unblemished report card. And just as had been the case in Tralee for the Munster final, it was the pace, confidence and accuracy of their front six, the half- forward line in particular, which took Sean Hayes’ side past Monaghan and back into the All-Ireland final after a three-year absence.
Michael Hurley, with his opening point on 26 minutes, was the last member of the Cork forward unit to write his name onto the ledger. He’d finish with 0-3 and the man of the match award. It was a piece of crystal that, no disrespect to the Castlehaven youngster, could easily have gone to Sean O’Donoghue, or to Seán Powter, such was the prominence of the Rebel forwards.
“Absolutely over the moon,” said Hurley of his team’s progression to the decider, “especially for Cork football, in general. With the past year or two, it has come in for a lot of criticism. Some of [the criticism] was legitimate, other stuff not. Hopefully, this will give Cork football a good boost.”
Hurley, more than most, would be processing what is said, negative or otherwise, given the involvement of his brother, Brian, on the senior panel. “As well, there is a few of the U21’s with the seniors. We’d know what is going on, we’d know what is being said, what is not being said. I suppose some of it is right, they are not going as well as they should be. They have a lot more potential, but a lot of [the criticism] shouldn’t be said. Hopefully, this will give the seniors a boost.
“We knew Monaghan, coming out of Ulster, were going to be a great team and we are delighted to get over them. We got 2-15 from play which was very pleasing. If you are Mayo and you are looking at that, you are thinking we can’t do much about that, but we won’t get over-confident.”
And neither should they for while they had Monaghan at arm’s length for the majority of the second period, they were never able to kill off the Ulster challenge.
The crucial burst in establishing a significant gap between themselves and the opposition arrived between the 21st and 23rd minute. Ryan Harkin split the posts following a fine Conor Forde save to deny Sean O’Donoghue, before Brian Coakley and O’Donoghue, the latter a great score off the right, edged Cork 1-6 to 1-5 ahead.
There followed the third goal of the contest; Stephen Cronin, Kelleher, Coakley and Hurley, in a sweeping passage of play, combining to put through Harkin who buried the ball past Forde.
All the more crucial was Cork’s unanswered 1-3 given it was posted in direct response to two Monaghan scores which had killed the momentum generated by Peter Kelleher’s 12th minute goal – credit here to Seán Powter who created the opening with one of his trademark gallops through the centre of the opposition defence.
The northerners swept back down the field where Barry McGinn planted the ball in the top left corner of Anthony Casey’s goal. The centre- forward was proving that little bit too hot to handle for the Cork rearguard; he was responsible for four of their opening five scores. Donal Meegan pointed and two from McGinn and a Fearghal McMahon effort had the gap back to the minimum at the break, 2-7 to 1-9, but parity eluded them. And they again failed to draw level when reducing the deficit to 2-8 to 1-10 early in the second period.
Three on the bounce from Powter, O’Donoghue and Hurley in the ensuing passages re-established a four-point buffer and thereafter, the Munster champions never looked like being caught. Subs Ronan O’Toole and Stephen Sherlock added scorer and while Ciarán McBride’s side did succeed in paring the margin back to two in injury-time, the required goal they were not allowed search properly for.
“There is grit in this team,” continued Hurley. “We proved that against Kerry. We proved our character [against Kerry], and we did that again today. It is a great thing to have in a team. Mayo is going to be a great challenge.”
S O’Donoghue (0-4); R Harkin (1-1); M Hurley, S Powter (0-3 each); P Kelleher (1-0); B Coakley (0-2); S Sherlock, R O’Toole (0-1 each).
B McGinn (1-6, 0-2 frees); C McCarthy (2 frees), F McMahon (0-3 each); C Forde (0-1 free), D Ward, R McAnespie (0-1 each).
A Casey (Kiskeam); M McSweeney (Newcestown), J Mullins (Éire Óg), D Quinn (St Finbarr’s); K Flahive (Douglas), S Cronin (Nemo Rangers), K Histon (Cobh); S White (Clonakilty), S O’Leary (Bantry Blues); S O’Donoghue (Inniscarra), S Powter (Douglas), R Harkin (Mallow); B Coakley (Carrigaline), P Kelleher (Kilmichael), M Hurley (Casltehaven).
E Lavers (Dohenys) for O’Leary (HT), R O’Toole (Éire Óg) for Quinn (41), S Sherlock (St Finbarr’s) for Coakley (42, bc), D Ó Duinnín (Cill na Matra) for Harkin (55), C Dorgan (Ballincollig) for Powter (62).
C Forde (Scotstown); B Kerry (Cremartin), M Murnaghan (Donaghmoyne), K Loughran (Monaghan Harps); D Ward (Ballybay), J Mealiff (Clones), N Rooney (Truagh Gaels); N Loughman (Carrickmacross), A Lynch (Carrickmacross); R McAnespie (Emyvale), B McGinn (Doohamlet), D Meegan (Inniskeen); F McMahon (Monaghan Harps), C McCarthy (Scotstown), A Treanor (Truagh Gaels).
F Maguire (Scotstown) for Treanor (17), A Curran (Clontibret) for Lynch (35), B McBennett (Doohamlet) for McMahon (40).
J Hickey (Carlow).