September silverware a perfect finale for Cork’s season of progress

The first Monday in September may not trip off the tongue the way the first Sunday did, but those in Mourneabbey in Cork last night will wax lyrical about that date for some time to come.

September silverware a perfect finale for Cork’s season of progress

The first Monday in September may not trip off the tongue the way the first Sunday did, but those in Mourneabbey in Cork last night will wax lyrical about that date for some time to come.

Last night the Cork minor footballers came home - officially - with the All-Ireland title. They were the only side to come out of Croke Park last weekend with a cup, and it was only natural they’d want to show it off. The place to do so was Clyda Rovers, home club of team captain Conor Corbett.

Hence the crowd last evening, with all due respect to the U16 girls contesting a North Cork final - and credit to Mallow, who beat the home side with a late, late goal in extra time.

Last second goals and north Cork. Must be something in the water.

Or the air, maybe. With the sky darkening last night a bad novelist would have had any amount of symbols and motifs to choose from. The contrast between a country place so quiet that you could literally hear the cows lowing as you strolled up from the car park below the main field to the hall, and Croke Park, where Corbett and his teammates had served up that pulsating minor final.

Locals Marie O’Sullivan, Jill Buckley and Clara O’Riordan, are all smiles at the homecoming for the All-Ireland Cork minor football team.
Locals Marie O’Sullivan, Jill Buckley and Clara O’Riordan, are all smiles at the homecoming for the All-Ireland Cork minor football team.

Or perhaps the train thundering past on a direct line between Mourneabbey and Dublin, county and city, the bright lights of Broadway and the rehearsal space in the local field where Corbett sharpened his shooting with a thousand shots on previous autumn evenings. And dreamed about Croke Park, far up the train tracks, and what it would be like to have the net billow at the Hill 16 end.

Corbett’s dream wasn’t a lonely one. The full panoply of Cork place names was on offer last night in Mourneabbey. Castlemagner and Buttevant, Urhan and Innishannon, Mitchelstown and Millstreet, and so were their representatives - still looking a little stunned, still absorbing the after-effects of a life-changing 24 hours. The lanky kids milling around together were brought down to another building before being piped up to the main hall. When they wake up this morning they will find it was true. They won an All-Ireland final.

Excessive? Maybe, but the grade is different. Minor is different. It’s more romantic than U20, or U21, more garlanded than junior or intermediate. When did you last hear a player described as a great U20, or a great junior? Be honest: being described as a great minor is an end unto itself.

Cork player Ciarán O’Sullivan signing his autograph for Colm Cronin from Castlemagner.
Cork player Ciarán O’Sullivan signing his autograph for Colm Cronin from Castlemagner.

Last Sunday was also notable because it was a first Cork All-Ireland title at the grade in almost two decades, an unwelcome distinction. Every county deserves the chance to stick out the chest every now and again and Cork is just like every other county - only more so, as Rick says of Captain Renault in Casablanca.

Earlier this year Cork launched a blueprint for success in Gaelic football which drew a good deal of sniggering outside the county, largely because of references to ‘Corkness’.

More than one person in Mourneabbey last evening referred to the lack of sniggering when the Cork U20s shrugged off a nine-point head start before reeling in a fancied Dublin side in their own All-Ireland final last month.

They went on to mention the complete absence of sniggering when the Cork minors rescued their All-Ireland final with an injury-time goal last Sunday: one went so far as to ask this writer what other county could declare its intention to improve performances in Gaelic football in January and produce two All-Ireland-winning performances by the start of September.

Aine O'Callaghan and Grace Glynn, both Mallow and Ashling Cronin and Kate O'Brien, both Mourneabbey, enjoying the homecoming for the victorious All-Ireland winning Cork minor football team at Clyda Rovers GAA Club, Mourneabbey, Co Cork. Picture: David Keane.
Aine O'Callaghan and Grace Glynn, both Mallow and Ashling Cronin and Kate O'Brien, both Mourneabbey, enjoying the homecoming for the victorious All-Ireland winning Cork minor football team at Clyda Rovers GAA Club, Mourneabbey, Co Cork. Picture: David Keane.

(This writer didn’t answer simply to avoid embarrassing other counties.) The portents for the future are another day’s work. Kerry surfed four years of minor success into last Sunday’s senior decider and will benefit hugely from the replay. Their opponents are going nowhere: no matter what happens on Saturday week Dublin will remain a force in the land for years to come. Gnarled opponents from Tyrone to Mayo will gird themselves for 2020 in due course.

No matter. When it began to darken last night those waiting outside the hall and at the entrance to the car park pressed closer to see the players approach, drawing together one last time to finish the journey out. The floodlights were almost redundant with the pride shining from every face.

Last night will always be available on demand, both for the youngsters who were the centrepiece and for those looking up at them, and when the years roll on a thousand memories will each have a separate trigger. The way the light dies in the autumn sky, or the lights coming on in the Dublin train, and someone will think of that homecoming in Mourneabbey on the first Monday in September.

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