When your opening championship game of the summer is a 16-point hammering on home soil and your last is the All-Ireland final, it goes without saying that there came a turning point somewhere along the road.
For the Cork minor footballers, their season swung on an escape from Cusack Park, a result which was eked out little over a week after the aforementioned opening-day drubbing.
Eight days on from the 3-19 to 1-9 beating at the hands of Kerry in Páirc Uí Rinn, the Cork minors headed to Ennis to save their summer. Nothing but a win in their second game of the Munster MFC Phase 2 section would suffice.
The hosts entered the tie with four Munster championship games under their belt having been the county to come through the new round-robin model introduced this year.
Their opponents, on the other hand, were still attempting to pick themselves up off the floor after being vaporised by the next-door neighbours.
The sides were level at half-time, but Clare’s failure to put away either of the gilt-edged goal chances they created in the second period was punished when Cork struck for a third green flag in the 58th minute to run out four-point winners.
“I know people look at the Monaghan and Mayo quarter-final and semi-final wins, and they were good games where we played good football, but we as a management would go back to the Clare game as the key result of our season,” said Cork minor selector and former Rebel footballer Mick Hannon.
“You are dealing with 15- and 16-year olds and so, of course, they were down going to Ennis given the result of the previous week.
They were probably saying to themselves, and you would if you were that age, ‘where are we going here, we are after putting in a huge effort since last October, we are training three days a week, we are travelling from Glengarriff, Schull, North Cork, and we still got hammered’.
“In fairness to [manager] Bobbie [O’Dwyer], he is excellent.
“He has been a manager in the bank for years and has great resolve.
“We instilled confidence into the players and we said the Kerry defeat was just an off-day and that we would put that hour behind us.
“It was backs to the wall time in Ennis, but we got the necessary result. We went into the Clare dressing-room after that game and Clare were absolutely gutted.
“They were distraught. They couldn’t understand that they didn’t beat us. As their manager said after, they watched us against Kerry and they couldn’t see how we could get up to the level and pitch of winning that game.”
Hannon added: “Last year, we had as good a team and put in the same effort, but lost the Munster semi-final and it was year over in May.
This year, getting to the Munster final has ensured we have had another four months with the players to develop them as footballers.
“Regardless of what happens now, we are at the end of the road anyway, barring a replay.
“Lads will play football up to September 1 and that is a massive positive.”
The selector was fulsome in his praise of a group who are bidding to deliver Cork a first All-Ireland minor crown since 2000.
“Their attitude, discipline, and commitment are absolutely fantastic.
“If any of that 38 was your own son you would be delighted.
“There is so much bad publicity out there with regard to kids, but these are very nice fellas.”