'A good year is when you win an All-Ireland' - Colm O'Neill
Star forward O’Neill believes Rebels can take ultimate prize
It seems so long ago now. Back in April, Cork took Donegal of all teams for four goals in the league semi-final. Even allowing for the likelihood that the Ulster side went into that game with one eye on their upcoming championship clash with Tyrone, it still seemed to represent something significant for Cork.
A eye-catching win over one of the big players in Croke Park wasn't to be sniffed at for the Rebels, especially in light of their recent record against football's heavyweights. Manager Brian Cuthbert acknowledged as much afterwards.
Last year's Munster final clash - their last outing in the old Páirc Uí Chaoimh - ended in a demoralising defeat at the hands of Kerry. That came on the back of a league final defeat to Dublin where they were torn apart.
The Dubs repeated the dose in this year's league decider where again Cork were miles off. For a side that look to have many of the key ingredients to break into the leading pack, it seemed like no progress had been made.
Those defeats were hard to take, star forward Colm O'Neill agrees, but he is pragmatic about those results.
"Those games, we have come against two of the best teams in the country," he offered.
"You have Dublin - everyone knows the talent and the potential they have. They are definitely the form team and they will be there or thereabouts in September.
"Then obviously you have Kerry who were All-Ireland champions last year. So you can't beat yourself up too much.
"There are things we wouldn't have been happy with and hopefully we can learn from them and bring them forward this year. But they are two of the best teams in Ireland and you can't be too down about it.
"We didn't look at the league final as a game in itself. We looked at the whole performance in the league and tried to learn and take things from that.
"Obviously we were disappointed with the final. We watched it and analysed it. Then we parked it and we didn't keep looking back.
"Because if you keep looking back you are not going to make any ground. We addressed it and moved on."
Still the brickbats started flying. Tomás ó Sé branded them "rudderless" while his Nemo Rangers clubmate James Masters took aim at Cuthbert through social media.
"It's not something as a group we concentrate on too much," the AIB employee said of their very public criticism.
"Everyone is entitled to their opinion. What happens outside the 30 fellas in the training panel doesn't really bother us.
"We know the mood in the camp is good. Once we know fellas are working hard and putting in the effort and trying to better themselves every day, that's all we can focus on.
"We can't control what other people are saying about us."
Cork were comprehensive winners over Clare in their championship opener but outside of their own dressing room, few give the Rebels a chance of turning over Kerry this weekend.
A trip to Killarney offers the perfect opportunity to lay down a marker and silence the doubters. Turning over the All-Ireland champions in their own backyard would be quite the statement.
"They are current All-Ireland champions and have three All Stars coming back with the Gooch, Tommy Walsh and Paul Galvin. So I'm sure the competition for places down there is something frightening.
"They'll be huge favourites (against Cork) with the lads coming back.
"And especially with the fact that they have home advantage in Killarney. That will probably be worth another three or four points to them.
"We are under no illusions about the challenge we have but we are working hard."
An injury-blighted career means O'Neill is set to start for the first time in Killarney on Sunday.
The knee is good, he insists. Three operations mean there's little bits of extra work to be done to ensure it stays healthy. Small things that make a big difference.
Not for the first time, the run-in hasn't been smooth but Cork are still aiming high. At times during their league campaign they looked to be gathering some real momentum.
O'Neill is 26 now and the years have flown by since they climbed to the top of the hill in 2010. He came on as a sub when they saw off Down that year.
Since then, September has always been the aim.
And Cork, he believes, can still operate at the altitude of the top teams.
"God, if you don't think you are capable of beating these teams I don't see the point in training four or five nights a week. You have to have that belief. You have to have that confidence in your squad.
"Look at Donegal last year, no one gave them a chance against Dublin. On their day any team can get the break of the ball and cause an upset.
"We've been training and working hard and hopefully we can do ourselves justice in Killarney."
And whatever happens this weekend, they'll still aim to be heading for Dublin later in the year.
"If you ask me what a good year is, it's when you win the All-Ireland. That's not being cocky or arrogant.
"A lot of counties, the top five or six, that's what they would be aiming for.
"We are not playing for moral victories or anything like that, we're no different to any other team."
Ballyclough are official suppliers of Colm O'Neill to Cork GAA, who take on Kerry in Sunday's Munster final. AIB are proud to be backing club and county this season and the sponsorship links the AIB GAA Club Championships and the All-Ireland SF Championship under one sponsor for the first time .