Character-building journey to glory

GREG NORMAN once said “the failure is what makes succeeding so sweet.”

And he should know having lost majors, including the heartbreaking manner of the 1987 US Masters defeat. He did win two British Opens and appreciated the success of these all the more as a result of his failures.

This Cork team knows all about failure but now they also know the massive satisfaction that accompanies winning an All-Ireland. They have climbed to the foothills of their Everest several times in recent years but on each occasion they were swept from the summit by a green and gold avalanche. They have known that indescribable hurt of losing on gaelic football’s greatest day. They were especially hurt by last year’s defeat. This time as they made off for the summit it was Down’s sherpas that attempted to derail them early in the game.

The five minute spell before the break was hugely important in deciding the destination of Sam Maguire. In the 29th minute Martin Clarke stood over a 45 and had an opportunity to put Down six points ahead. He missed. From there Cork began to get to grips around the middle and took over until half-time. Donnacha O’Connor kicked a very important free and settled his colleagues who had previously been guilty of some panicked shooting and poor finishing. Daniel Goulding also got in on the act after a fantastic catch and drive in the middle of the field by Aidan Walsh, who was outstanding throughout. A Clarke free gave Down a cushion again but Cork responded with an O’Connor point from play and a Goulding 45. Cork, having played well below par, went in only three points down at the break.

The gap could easily have been double that but for excellent defensive work. Noel O’Leary had a fantastic outing on Marty Clarke and negated his influence. Ditto Michael Shields on Benny Coulter. Instead of chasing the game Cork resumed in a position that allowed them power for the line.

Nicholas Murphy, as he has done all summer, came on at half-time and was immense. He has lost three finals and played like a man who was not going to lose another. He laid down a marker straight away with a big hit on Peter Fitzpatrick. Cork completely dominated the middle third for the second half. Murphy and Walsh fielded magnificently and around them most breaks were hoovered up by Cork men. Significantly, Ciarán Sheehan, Patrick Kelly and Paul Kerrigan all thundered into the game. Graham Canty’s introduction was also very important as he steadied the ship. In the end it was only one point, but it should have been more.

When Kerry beat Cork last June I noticed some of the older Cork players departing the scene that evening. They looked like beaten men. They looked old. I wondered if they could resurrect themselves again. I knew that if Cork got a run through the qualifiers that they would be very dangerous in Croke Park. The qualifiers can be a minefield though and that journey can build character or it can destroy dreams. Cork survived the qualifiers rather than embracing them but they kept learning as they went and kept building a reservoir of character. They seemed to find a determination that no matter what was thrown at them through sheer willpower they were going to finish this job off. They displayed this willpower in the final quarter of the semi-final and again yesterday, surviving a great late Down surge. Cork never looked like losing as they showed the character of champions. All-Ireland Champions.


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