Just after 4pm on this date 10 years ago, Dr Con Murphy was trying to disguise his alarm in the Cork dressing room.
His beloved footballers, seeking their first win in their third final appearance in four seasons, were three points behind Down having played what Daniel Goulding described as their worst half of football that year.
Conor Counihan and his management team were keeping their cool. The tag of favourites hadn’t sat comfortably with the group but they knew their players and they still had Graham Canty and Colm O’Neill to spring from the bench.
Murphy, though, was working himself into a lather trying to relax the group. A confidant to so many players, his reassuring words were often the tonic required to attack the second half. But on this occasion his fretting was exactly what was needed to break the tension.
“Dr Con was running around the place and telling everyone it was going to be okay and he was panicking himself,” laughs Goulding.
After Paul McComiskey put Down four up inside the opening four minutes of the half, Murphy shouted at Counihan to do something. As selector Ger O’Sullivan recalls: “Con came down to us at the start of the second half and said, ‘Lads, ye better do something.’ Con wasn’t shy in making his views known. It was tense.”
Goulding cut the deficit to three points a couple of minutes later and then the steady hand of Canty entered the fray but Cork could have been forgiven for thinking it would all work out.
If Jim McGuinness’s Donegal were to be later known for locking up a lead as soon as they got one ,and Dublin in the early half of Jim Gavin became synonymous with early blitzes, Cork in 2010 were the ultimate second-half team.
For their three matches in Croke Park, they were an aggregate 11 points behind at the break. They won the second-halfs by a total of 18 points. It said plenty about their fitness, but their resolve too.
Although, O’Sullivan sensed it was slightly rattled when Kerry, the thumbtack in their shoe in 2007 and ’09, bowed out to Down in the quarter-final, a day before Cork’s clash with Roscommon.
“On the way to the hotel in Killiney, the team bus dropped me close enough to Croke Park to see the Kerry game. When I got back to the hotel and Kerry were gone, there was an unreal feeling that here were Kerry gone. That Roscommon game was difficult. We put in the preparation in for that.
Being drawn against a Dublin team that had beaten Tyrone well provided a good dollop of reality, Goulding remembers. “That was one of the most intimidating games I’ve ever played in. I’ve never played in front of a crowd like that and the All-Ireland final was quiet in comparison to it. The second half of the Dublin game we played really good football. Donncha (O’Connor) really stepped up in the final 10 minutes when he scored 1-3 and they were all pressure kicks. Colm O’Neill changed the game when he came on and he nearly won all those frees.
“We probably shouldn’t have won it if Dublin had been a bit further down the line in terms of experience. They would have probably closed it out but we took advantage of it and managed to close it out.”
After getting over their nerves, Cork were outstanding in suffocating Down. They put their full-back line on the rack and the marksmanship of Goulding and O’Connor was pivotal. Together they kicked 10 placed balls, the pair’s work with the team’s sports psychologist Kevin Clancy paying off in spades.
“The year before, I missed a couple of frees, which probably contributed to us losing the All-Ireland so there was an awful lot of work put into rectifying that. My routine wasn’t fully nailed down. A lot of my frees, I was taking them differently. In the (2007) U21 All-Ireland that we won, I missed a couple. I got some brilliant ones but the ones I was missing was down to my routine being different every time I was kicking the ball.
“Kevin worked with me in trying to take the situation completely out of the kick and just focusing on the routine. You can do the exact same thing and it mightn’t work but that day we kicked nearly every free we won. As a freetaker, that’s your job. You live and die by putting the ball over the bar and fortunately almost all of them went over.”
Cork followed up that title with four consecutive All-Ireland quarter-final defeats. O’Sullivan wonders now if the group could have stomached another final loss. “I knew at that stage you can only come back so often after defeats, so relief was the big thing. That team, in hindsight, had been there a number of years and had been very successful and you could see that from the National Leagues they won the effort was being put in and the players were buying into it 100%.
Yet in the context of previous Septembers it was one of the most deserved All-Irelands and as the years have passed the stock of that Cork team has clearly risen. It wasn’t enough for them to garner an All-Star forward selection that season. “It angers me that Donncha never got an All-Star because he was one of the best forwards never to win one,” says Goulding.
But both Goulding and O’Sullivan know there is more respect for their group now. “People say, ‘Oh, you should have won more’ but winning All-Irelands doesn’t come easy to Cork footballers. Cork have seven to their name. It’s easy to say we should have won more. I think we changed the game for a while with the athleticism that we brought to it. We were nearly the first to have that size of athlete and that ability to run powerfully and a lot of the game now is based on that.”
O’Sullivan chimes: “When we were beaten in ’11 and ’12 people were saying we should have won more and we underachieved.
“But I still think that period was the most successful that Cork senior footballers have ever had. We were up there with best of them and all we really wanted was Cork football to be at that level on a regular basis.
“I do think people in the last few years would give us more credit now, given what supporters have gone through in recent years. They appreciate that era wasn’t too bad and we were getting to Croke Park and All-Ireland finals. In the few years after 2010, we probably got stick that we didn’t achieve but now they’re happy with what we did.”
Today, they will remember the man they lost in Kieran O’Connor who passed away in July of this year.
Debates about the team’s standing take a backseat as their WhatsApp notifications will lit up with memories of their fallen team-mate, the holidays, the journey.
“Whether we were successful enough or not doesn’t matter to me because of what I got out of it through the friendships,” insists Goulding. “I have 15-20 friends still on the back of those panels from 2007 to ’15 or ’16. I’m thankful for what I have.”
Daniel Goulding 0-9 (4 frees, 3 45s), Donncha O’Connor 0-5 (3 frees), Paul Kerrigan, Ciarán Sheehan 0-1 each.
Paul McComiskey, Martin Clarke (frees), Danny Hughes (0-3 each); Kevin McKernan, Peter Fitzpatrick, Mark Poland, Benny Coulter, John Clarke, Ronan Murtagh (0-1 each)
Alan Quirke; Eoin Cadogan, Michael Shields (captain), Ray Carey; Noel O’Leary, John Miskella, Paudie Kissane; Alan O’Connor, Aidan Walsh; Ciarán Sheehan, Pearse O’Neill, Paddy Kelly; Daniel Goulding, Donncha O’Connor, Paul Kerrigan.
Nicholas Murphy for Alan O’Connor (35); Graham Canty for Paudie Kissane (42); Colm O’Neill for Pearse O’Neill (55), Derek Kavanagh for Nicholas Murphy (66), John Hayes for Paul Kerrigan (69).
Brendan McVeigh; Daniel McCartan, Dan Gordon, Damian Rafferty; Declan Rooney, Kevin McKernan, Conor Garvey; Peter Fitzpatrick, Kalum King; Daniel Hughes, Mark Poland, Benny Coulter (captain); Paul McComiskey, John Clarke, Martin Clarke.
Conor Maginn for John Clarke (45); Ronan Murtagh for Paul McComiskey (55); Benny McArdle for Damian Rafferty (58); Aidan Brannigan for Callum King (65); Conor Laverty for Mark Poland (66).
David Coldrick (Meath).