Leaning against the wall outside a bouncing Cork dressing-room, happiness and contentment radiating from the broad smile he’s wearing, Cork U20 captain Peter O’Driscoll conveys his hope that this sensational come-from-behind final victory “will be the start of something”.
The All-Ireland U20 winning captain is talking about his own group and the journey that may take them into a Cork senior dressing-room in the near future, but O’Driscoll’s words are also aimed at Cork football as a whole.
Where minor, U20/21, and senior is concerned, the Ilen Rovers defender became the first Cork footballer since Graham Canty in 2010 to lift All-Ireland silverware. But rather than this win being a full stop at the end of a season in which the U20s overcame Kerry, Tyrone, and Dublin, the collective hope is that this forms the opening lines of a new chapter for Cork football, one which will be far removed from the turbulent and regressive nature of recent years.
“It is a big win for the county,” said O’Driscoll. “The minors had a big win last weekend and have an All-Ireland semi-final to look forward to. The seniors made the Super 8s. All these are big lifts for Cork football.
“There are a lot of future Cork seniors inside in that dressing room. They are most definitely not finished yet. Everyone here wants to be a Cork footballer, a Cork senior. We all dreamt of it since we were knee-high. This is just a stepping stone. Keith said it at the start of the year, his job is to make Cork footballers out of us and to win competitions along the way. We did that and so we couldn’t ask for better. Hopefully, this will be the start of something.
“I said it last week and I’ll say it again, Cork football hasn’t gone away by any means.”
Back out on the field and still attempting to make sense of what they’ve just achieved, and more pertinently how they achieved it, corner-forward Mark Cronin echoes the sentiments of his teammate.
“When you dream of playing in a Cork jersey, you don’t dream of winning just one All-Ireland, you dream of winning many, so we are hoping to push on from here,” said the Nemo Rangers forward.
“The fans of Cork football are dying for something to get behind. Thankfully, the minors are in an All-Ireland semi-final, while the seniors are back where they belong in the Super 8s and hopefully will push on further next year and get out of Division 3.”
Cronin was instrumental in Cork recovering from a truly nightmare start. The Munster champions quickly found themselves pinned against the ropes such was the relentless pressure being applied by Tom Gray’s side during the opening 12 minutes, a period where Dublin kicked 1-6 without pause while Cork in no way helped their own cause by producing a series of near-calamitous errors, including the botched restart to O’Driscoll which resulted in Ciarán Archer finding the net. Irrespective of ‘keeper Josh O’Keeffe going short or long off the tee, Cork were winning very few of their own kick-outs.
Encapsulating how off-colour Ricken’s side were early on was the casual and tentative nature which half-back Gearóid O’Donovan approached the loose ball after Brian O’Leary hit the post. Archer almost snuck in to rob the defender and had he done so, a second goal was inevitable.
And then, with admirable patience, Cronin fisted a pass to Blake Murphy and he volleyed to the net for their opening score after 12 minutes. Cronin (free) and James Doran subsequently swapped points before two more Cork goals, on 16 and 17 minutes, undid the Dubs’ dream opening to tie matters at 3-1 to 1-7.
Cronin was provider-turned-finisher for their second green flag, finding the net from a tight angle after keeping in play a Damien Gore point effort which was heading wide. Colm O’Callaghan followed with the equaliser, scrambling the ball home after a defence-splitting run from midfielder Daniel O’Connell.
Three-in-a-row from Gore, O’Mahony, and O’Connell had Ricken’s troops in front at the break, 3-6 to 1-10, and although Archer (free) and Brian O’Leary restored parity six minutes into the second period, the winners overran their opponents from there to the finish, outscoring a Dublin side, who tallied six second-half wides, by 0-10 to 0-2.
But far more impressive than their second-half charge for the line or the manner in which they brought the Dublin challenge to a standstill was the gumption and self-control shown to pick themselves up off the floor after those disastrous opening 12 minutes and haul themselves back into contention.
“We didn’t panic early on,” Cronin insisted. “We had confidence in ourselves. If you are giving up after 10 minutes, you are in the wrong spot.
“The goals came at great times. But even if we hadn’t got a goal early on, we wouldn’t have panicked. We knew we had a big wind in the second-half. We believed in ourselves all the time.
“Now the fans probably thought at nine down that they might as well go home but thankfully, they got behind us and helped us immensely.”
A local hurling championship match between Camross and Borris/Kilcotton followed the All-Ireland U20 final, but several times, prior to throw-in, had the stadium announcer to request that Cork supporters depart the field. How long has it been since there was such a feel-good factor surrounding Cork football?
And the restorative summer ain’t over yet as the minors now take centre stage next Saturday against Mayo in their bid to emulate what played out in Portlaoise.
M Cronin (1-3, 0-3 frees); B Murphy (1-2); C O’Mahony (0-3 frees), D Gore (0-4 each); C O’Callaghan (1-0); D O’Connell, J Murphy, F Herlihy (0-1 each).
C Archer (1-5, 0-3 frees); B O’Leary (0-3); R McGarry (0-1 free), J Doran (0-2 each); D Ryan, D Lacey (0-1 each).
J O’Keeffe (Newmarket); M Mahoney (Knocknagree), M Shanley (Clonakilty), P Ring (Aghabullogue); S Meehan (Kiskeam), P O’Driscoll (Ilen Rovers), G O’Donovan (Newcestown); B Hartnett (Douglas), D O’Connell (Kanturk); C Barrett (St Finbarr’s), B Murphy (St Vincent’s), C O’Callaghan (Éire Óg); M Cronin (Nemo Rangers), C O’Mahony (Mitchelstown), D Gore (Kilmacabea).
J Murphy (Éire Óg) for Barrett (38 mins); M Hodnett (Carbery Rangers) for O’Callaghan (41); F Herlihy (Dohenys) for Murphy (50); J McCarthy (Carrigaline) for O’Donovan (57); E O’Hanlon (Kilshannig) for Gore (61); S Hickey (Millstreet) for Ring (62).
D O’Hanlon (Na Fianna); E O’Dea (Na Fianna), D Newcombe (Lucan Sarsfields), D Maher (St Patrick’s Donabate); K Kennedy (Ballyboden St Enda’s), N Matthews (Erin’s Isle), S Lambe (St Vincent’s); P Ó Cofaigh Byrne (Cuala), D Ryan (Na Fianna); N O’Leary (Kilmacud Crokes), K Lynch Bissett (Naomh Mearnóg), J Doran (Na Fianna); B O’Leary (Na Fianna), C Archer (St Maur’s), R McGarry (Ballyboden St Enda’s).
D Lacey (Na Fianna) for N O’Leary (38); H Ladd (Lucan Sarsfields) for Ó Cofaigh Byrne (43, bc); A Lynch (St Sylvester’s) for Maher (54).
D O’Mahoney (Tipperary).