Final Mirrored Cork's Tortured Road to Success

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IT MAY not have been the prettiest game in the world, but it was fitting that the game of ball that Cork won last Sunday mirrored their journey to that point. There were times in the first half when they were wretched, wasteful and witless, without hope and direction.

And there was a period, when Down stung them on the counter, playing intelligent, quick football, that Cork must have stared hard at those mustard and black shirts and wondered if their opponents were their old tormentors Kerry in disguise.

Could we not have forgiven them if, in those dark opening 30-odd minutes, they'd allowed the thought to slip through their mind that they were just a plaything of the gods, a testing board to see how far you could push a group of men before despair finally reduces them to wreckage? If so, the final hand was masterly in its deviousness. We go and rid them of their nemeses in the knowledge that instead of offering them relief, it will crank up the expectation even if their form does not merit it.

John Miskella, Cork's veteran defender, summed up the skewed view the world and her sister had of them last Monday when he conceded that all they heard was people telling them how bad they were playing with one breath, but that it was their All-Ireland to lose with the next.

In normal sporting ledgers, the payback for poor form is some deflation in expectation levels but not here.

Had they failed on Sunday, they would have taken another kicking from their own while the rest of us would have wondered aloud at the prospect of Castlehaven twinning with Castlebar.

But truly what does not kill you makes you stronger.

This Cork team had long gone past the point of bothering about what the world thought of them or, for even that matter, their own county board.

When their colleagues in the county hurling panel were fanning the flames of insurrection back at the start of the last decade, the football panel came together and held a meeting to issue their declaration of support, but you could almost here the cackles of disbelief from the public. …