On the first Sunday of April in 2015, Brian Cuthbert brought a Cork team to Owenbeg already guaranteed a place in the knockout stages of Division 1. Victory over Mayo in round six the previous weekend had secured a place in the semi-finals and management made seven changes for what was effectively a dead rubber tie which they lost 2-15 to 1-11. It didn’t matter.
Tomorrow’s fixture at Celtic Park matters. It matters hugely. Cork, despite managing just one win from their opening five games, are still in control of their destiny. And they’ll want to keep it that way ahead of Down’s visit next weekend.
Remember back to the concluding Sunday of last year’s league where Colin Walshe’s late winner for Monaghan over Donegal at Castleblayney ejected the Rebels from the top tier by virtue of an inferior scoring difference.
Ironically enough, it is Cork’s scoring difference which currently has them above Fermanagh and Down in the Division Two table - and out of the relegation zone.
Derry manager Damian Barton, whose team sit bottom of Division 2, has described the fixture as “critical” for both sides. He expects Cork to travel north carrying “psychological scars” from their draw with Meath which was very much a point lost rather than a point gained.
Speaking in advance of that game, selector Eoin O’Neill was asked why Cork are coming unstuck against opposition traditionally viewed as easy pickings for footballers in red. He replied: “Maybe, their attitude has been a little off during games.
"Maybe, it is their confidence and not being able to handle a setback when it happens on the field. That is the stuff we’ve been working on. It is obvious to us we have to get them a little bit more resilient and get a bit better at working our way through rough patches in matches.
“It is not one-off results with Cork at the moment, unfortunately. We’ve had a couple of ups and downs. Before we took them and since we’ve taken them, they’ve been like that. I think their confidence has taken a knocking.”
They found themselves in a rough patch against Meath. How it came about remains unclear given Cork had a nine-point lead before the wheels began to fall off. That they were outscored 1-8 to 0-1 between the 46th and 65th minute has been well documented this week. But amplifying the extent to which the home side retreated into their shell when Meath got a march on them is the number of chances squandered by the Royals.
After Donal Keogan’s goal to leave the scoreboard reading 0-16 to 1-11, Sean Tobin sent a run-of-the-mill free to the left and wide of Ken O’Halloran’s goal. Eamonn Wallace was off target in the subsequent action. Graham Reilly brought it back to the minimum, but there followed further misses from Donal Lenihan (wide) and James Toher (post).
In total, Meath created 13 scoring chances to Cork’s two during this 19- minute spell. It was the same against Galway in the opening round where they were unable to defend a two-point lead heading into second-half stoppages.
Against Clare, they failed to provide a sufficient response to three unanswered points at the beginning of the second-half which sent the Banner three clear. Against Kildare, they were two in arrears with 13 minutes remaining and the wind at their backs. They didn’t push on.
Go back to last June and that championship upset at the hands of Tipperary. The Rebels rescued a nine-point deficit to draw level as the clock ticked into the red. Again, they didn’t push on. The poise and leadership which this team is so clearly deficient in was put to manager Peadar Healy last Sunday.
He felt Mark Collins, Ruairi Deane and Stephen Cronin fronted up when the going got tough in the second period. Three players out of 15. That’s hardly encouraging. Neither is the stat which shows Longford, Limerick and Fermanagh are the only teams Cork have beaten in the past 11 months.
There were many who were irked by Cork chairman Ger Lane’s comments at last December’s convention concerning Healy’s side. “Cork football should be in a much better position and questions have to be asked if it doesn’t happen in 2017,” he said.
It hasn’t happened thus far and should they return from Derry empty-handed, pressure from the board will be the least of their worries.