Rebels aiming to avenge ghosts of Roscommon 2003
THERE wasn't much that Tommy Carr could say as he extended a right hand of consolation towards a haunted Larry Tompkins.
The final whistle had just blown on a stormy All-Ireland qualifier at Dr Hyde Park in June 2003 and Carr's Roscommon had toppled Tompkins and Cork.
The visitors had lost Brendan Jer O'Sullivan and Colin Corkery to red cards, any semblance of a game plan had utterly disintegrated and this was an ignominious end to a six-year term in charge for Tompkins.
Four years earlier, Tompkins had taken Cork to an All-Ireland final but now, they were a dishevelled, rudderless bunch. Having lost to Limerick by 10 points in the Munster championship at Pairc Ui Chaoimh four weeks earlier, Cork were ripe for the plucking and Roscommon took full advantage.
It sparked a glorious run to Croke Park as wins against Leitrim, Offaly and Kildare followed before the Rossies put three goals past Kerry in an All-Ireland quarter-final and lost by just five points.
Cork veered off in a different direction. Tompkins exited stage left and the revered Billy Morgan returned to oversee a complete overhaul.
From then, the county's senior footballers finally began to embrace methods more in keeping with the new challengers that had emerged, from Ulster in particular.
"It was a dark day and a realisation for them," reflects Carr, mastermind of a 0-14 to 1-10 victory over Cork on that Saturday.
"Now and again teams get that realisation and they have to stop and ask themselves where are they going. I certainly remember that day. We had just been beaten by Galway (0-12 to 0-8) in the Connacht semi-final.
"I felt at that stage that the team hadn't played poorly, but not exceptionally well either, and that there was a bit in them.
"We drew Cork then and knew it would be tough, but the fact that it was in Dr Hyde Park was going to add a bit to it. It was a case of staying in the game, getting a foothold and Cork just weren't ready for this one."
Tompkins, Carr recalls, was "devastated" at the final whistle.
"All I could say was 'Jaysus Larry, sorry about that'. It wasn't much consolation to anybody. He knew in his heart, that was it for him. There was nobody more competitive than Larry Tompkins, nobody gave it more than him.
"Larry was under a lot of pressure at the time. There was a very anti-Larry Tompkins sentiment around the place."
With 15 minutes remaining, a lone spectator, eyes bulging and veins popping, made a beeline for Tompkins before he was apprehended by gardai.
"I spotted him out of the corner of my eye," Carr recalls. "He was in a real aggressive mood towards Tompkins. It was a pretty ugly little moment. We all know that what you might have achieved as a player is totally and utterly irrelevant when it comes to going into management. The shine goes off very quickly."
Corkery remembers: "The guy that came in was full of drink from what I heard after. We were being beaten, he was a bit emotional and he took it out on Larry, but that shouldn't have happened."
Towards the finish, Corkery was red-carded for an off-the-ball incident with Morgan Beirne.
"I thought it was a bit harsh but we were frustrated. We weren't in form. We were getting a bit stale as well," he adds.
"Nemo were after going for three years in a row at that time, contesting three All-Ireland club finals and winning one. It drained me anyway. We took Roscommon a bit lightly, they got it right tactically and it finished up a write-off of a season."
It's suggested to Corkery that perhaps losing brought a sense of relief, particularly as club and inter-county exertions had taken a heavy toll.
"No," he replies. "You don't think like that. Because I always maintained there was an All-Ireland in that team. There probably was. It was terrible."
As Cork retreated to a dark place, Roscommon moved on and won three more games in that memorable championship season.
It was remarkable stuff. Leitrim were beaten with a last-minute goal from a substitute, Frankie Dolan kicked 12 points against Offaly and went one better against Kildare.
Carr says with a smile: "That was an unbelievable run and at Croke Park, we out-goaled Kerry.
"Cork have moved on hugely since then. They're now a bigger, stronger, more powerful unit and thinking of All-Ireland titles. They will beat Roscommon and that's not taking away from Roscommon but they haven't had the run of games to build up momentum that we had in 2003.
"They've beaten Leitrim and Sligo, but it's really not enough in terms of something substantial."