It has been a shocking decade of decline for Cork football and having started it in 2010 as Division One and All-Ireland champions, they finish it as a Division Three side after yesterday’s deserved win in Armagh failed to save them from relegation.
The five-year plan for Cork football, launched in January, did not make provision for a further fall from grace, but a chronic inability to win at home has cursed this team and ultimately that was their undoing this spring.
“We were dependent on other results and the fact we were in that position was our own fault,” admitted Cork boss Ronan McCarthy.
“We had four away games in the league and took five points out of eight — and none at home. That has been a trend so look, our home form has let us down but there are talented players here.
“They do all the right things, they’re eager for success and we’ll keep working away with them. You keep working, keep developing our panel and it will come right.”
It’s fair to suggest if Cork had showed the same fight and sense of purpose throughout the campaign as they did yesterday, they probably wouldn’t have been relying on Tipp to do them a favour against Clare.
Their fate was not in their own hands and despite a strong finish here in the Athletic Grounds with late points from subs Damien Gore and Cian Kiely, as soon as the final whistle sounded the players knew the score with word filtering through of Clare’s win in Semple Stadium.
If ever there was a hollow victory, this was it.
Armagh were already safely tucked up in Division Two for 2020 and their first-half performance suggested as much.
They were poor and trailed by eight points at one stage, but were much improved after the break in a second half played at a much higher tempo.
Cork led 2-6 to 0-6 at half time with two early left-footed goals from Brian Hurley the highlights of a whirlwind start when they hit an unanswered 2-3 in an eight-minute spell.
Armagh outscored Cork by six points to one in the third quarter but Kevin Crowley’s well-taken goal on the break in the 61st minute steadied the ship. The home side responded instantly with a raiding attack and when Joe McElroy was fouled in the square, Jamie Clarke dispatched the penalty.
Yet even when Armagh drew level for the first and only time in the game through Rory Grugan’s free in the 67th minute, Cork kicked on with late points from subs Kiely and Gore.
Cork lost three players — Sean Powter, Paul Kerrigan, and Michael Hurley to injury during the week, on top of Luke Connolly already being ruled out. Their squad depth was tested to the max when John O’Rourke and Brian Hurley limped out, yet they showed good resolve and really fought hard for the victory which should have at least been some comfort to them on the long journey home.
It had all looked so good for the Rebels at half time, leading by six with Tipperary leading Clare by five points in Thurles.
Hurley’s first goal came in the fourth minute. He cut in along the sideline, exchanged quick passes with Mark Collins before burying the ball low to the far corner.
He skinned Paul Hughes again for the second, prompting Armagh to switch markers, with another low left-footed finish to help Cork into a 2-3 to 0-1 lead.
The home side did have a good spell just before the break landing three out of four scores through Jemar Hall and Rory Grugan (two) to close the gap to six.
Cork found a lot of joy cutting Armagh open clean through the middle and Eoghan McSweeney (two), Cillian O’Hanlon and Mark Collins stroked over lovely points with the wind at their backs.
Armagh lost Niall Grimley to a black card for a foot trip in first-half stoppage time, but going down to 14 players didn’t unsettle them in the early stages of the second period.
They outscored Cork by six points to one in the third quarter with Rian O’Neill, Jamie Clarke, and James Morgan all brought off the bench to inject more urgency into Armagh.
O’Neill landed a free and a mark with two Grugan frees and a fisted Joe McElroy point making things interesting with Cork only scoring one point in the first 26 minutes of the second half.
Just as Armagh came to life, Cork hit back with a brilliantly-taken goal from Kevin Crowley. The Cork defender bursting through the tackle and a low finish from 21 metres out.
Instantly, Armagh responded with a raiding attack and McElroy was fouled in the square, with Jamie Clarke stepping up to bury the ball low inside White’s left-hand post.
Grugan’s free brought Armagh level, but Cork rallied with the late points to claim a fruitless win.
Scorers for Armagh: Rory Grugan (0-6, 5 frees), Jamie Clarke (1-0, pen), Rian O’Neill (0-3, 2f, one mark), Joe McElroy, Aidan Forker, Jarly Og Burns, Jemar Hall, Niall Grimley (0-1 each).
Scorers for Cork: Brian Hurley (2-0), Kevin Crowley (1-0), Mark Collins (0-3, 1 free), Eoghan McSweeney (0-2), Cillian O’Hanlon, John O’Rourke, Damien Gore, Cian Kiely (0-1 each).
ARMAGH: B Hughes; P Burns, J McElroy, P Hughes; R Kennedy, B Donaghy, A Forker; J Og Burns, N Grimley; R Grugan, C Vernon, J Hall; E Rafferty, P Casey, S Campbell.
Subs: J Clarke for Campbell (29); R O’Neill for Vernon (44); J Morgan for Hughes (51); A Nugent for Casey (58).
CORK: M White; K Flahive, Thomas Clancy, C Dennehy; K Crowley, Tomas Clancy, M Taylor; I Maguire, C O’Hanlon; E McSweeney, J O’Rourke, R Deane; B Hurley, M Collins, S White.
Subs: K O’Driscoll for O’Rourke (26), C Kiely for Taylor (HT), D Gore for Hurley (48), P Kelleher for McSweeney (66), S Cronin for S White (70).
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).