Final beckons for classy minors
All Ireland MFC Semi-Final: Cork 4-12 Mayo 1-13
Rewind back to the evening of May 7 for a moment and consider the landscape in the minor football championship.
Bobbie O'Dwyer and his Cork players trudged out of Páirc Uí Rinn that evening, their mood dark and shoulders lowered after a sixteen-point shellacking from Kerry. It was Kerry's 31st win in-a-row at the minor grade and the confident beginning of what many anticipated was a march towards six All-Ireland wins in-a-row.
Cork, at that stage, were an afterthought in the All-Ireland race and it didn't look too promising for them in Munster either. Fast forward 95 days to Croke Park last Saturday afternoon and the 46th minute in particular as a rejuvenated Cork took on Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-finals.
With just two points between the teams, Daniel Linehan strode up from defence and seized possession ahead of Mayo's in-form midfielder Paddy Heneghan on Mayo's 45-metre line.
Despite wearing number three on his back, the Castlemagner talent had goal on his mind and turned on the afterburners, bursting away from wing-back Eoin Gilraine and surging into open space to rifle an unstoppable shot to the net.
Ryan O'Donovan, only on the field five minutes as a substitute, added a point in Cork's next attack and suddenly they led by six points, Mayo's resolve broken.
From Páirc Uí Rinn to the All-Ireland final, a redemptive tale in line with the general themes of rehabilitation and renewal around the county's flagship football teams this year.
It looked pretty gloomy for the seniors for a spell in spring too, but they eventually ended up in the Super 8s, while O'Dwyer admitted he and his minors took great confidence from seeing the U-20s win a first All-Ireland at that level in a decade.
The Cork minor win, for a few hours at least, threw up the potential for an all-Munster All-Ireland final and a repeat of the provincial final on September 1. Yet having beaten Cork twice in the provincial championship, Kerry slipped up a day later against Galway, poor shooting and missed opportunities costing them.
Who could have predicted back in May after the Pairc Ui Rinn game, that Cork would outlast Kerry in the championship and push hardest for the All-Ireland?
Nobody can say it hasn't been deserved with this Cork team displaying incremental improvement at each point along the way to the national decider. They lost the Munster final by just a goal, hit Monaghan for 3-19 in the All-Ireland quarter-finals and looked entirely comfortable on the grander stage against Mayo.
From the moment that Patrick Campbell punished an errant Mayo kick-out in the seventh minute, rounded the 'keeper and kicked to the net, Cork were in control and led virtually from pillar to post.
Campbell finished up with 1-2 and the Man of the Match award though came off in the 50th minute wincing and clutching his back. He suffered a back spasm, according to management, but they're hopeful it won't affect his availability for the final.
Mayo's short kick-outs got them into all sorts of trouble in the opening half and Jack Cahalane punished them with a 15th minute point after a turnover.
The moment of the half came in the 24th minute when Conor Corbett pointed to put Cork 1-7 to 0-4 ahead. It wasn't a great pass initially from Campbell but Corbett showed ingenuity to flick the ball over a Mayo defender's head, touching it into space and allowing him to gather and convert.
Mayo's brightest period came either side of half-time, three points in-a-row leaving them just 1-7 to 0-7 back at the interval and another score after the restart reducing it to a two-point game.
That margin remained between them at the end of the third quarter when Linehan fashioned that goal from nothing and put his team in a winning position.
Another fine Cork score is worth nothing too. It came from Campbell in the 43rd minute and there were shades of Owen Mulligan, 2005 about it as the Nemo Rangers forward burst forward at the Davin End, feigned to offload to his left before rifling over.
It highlighted all that was good about Cork on a day when they won their first semi-final since 2010; power, purpose, poise and precision all exhibited in one terrific move.
Hugh Murphy booted two great points too and captain Corbett came into his own in the last quarter, adding two more goals in the 50th and 65th minutes.
His first, Cork's third, left nine between them at 3-10 to 0-10 and highlighted Cork's greater urgency again as Jack Lawton got a strong hand to a 50-50 throw-up and palmed the ball down to Corbett who strode away and fired to the net.
Corbett was back on the goal trail in the 61st minute, electing to fist over when another major was a possibility. He went for broke four minutes later when in a similar position with just the 'keeper to beat, his first shot blocked but his rebound unstoppable.
CORK: Cian O'Leary; Joseph O'Shea, Daniel Peet, Neil Lordan; Kelan Scannell, Daniel Linehan (1-0), Darragh Cashman; Jack Lawton, Eoghan Nash; Hugh Murphy (0-2), Patrick Campbell (1-2), Adam Walsh Murphy; Michael O'Neill (0-2, 1f), Conor Corbett (2-3), Jack Cahalane (0-1) Subs: Sean Andrews for O'Shea (41), Ryan O'Donovan (0-2) for O'Neill (41), Keith O'Driscoll for Campbell (50), Luke Murphy for Walsh Murphy (55), Shane Aherne for Hugh Murphy (58), Alan O'Hare for Cahalane (61)
MAYO: Luke Jennings; Oisin Tunney, Owen McHale (0-1), Alfie Morrison; Shaun Dempsey (0-1), Ruairi Keane, Eoin Gilraine; Ethan Henry (0-3f), Mark Tighe; Aidan Cosgrove, Paddy Heneghan (0-4), Dylan Thornton; Ciaran Mylett (0-1f), Frank Irwin (0-2), Paul Walsh Subs: Rory Morrin for Mylett (36), John Grady (0-1f) for Dempsey (45), Ray Walsh for Cosgrove (51), Ronan Hughes for Tunney (57), Ciaran Boland for Gilraine (61), Niall Feeney (1-0) for Walsh (61)
Referee: Niall Cullen (Fermanagh)
The game in 60 seconds
Patrick Campbell has done some terrific things for Cork in this year's minor championship, his outside of the boot point from a tight angle against Clare a thing of beauty. He took his talents to the big stage at Croke Park and shone, scoring 1-2 and hitting the early goal that put Cork into a lead they wouldn't relinquish. His late withdrawal with back trouble was an unfortunate ending.
Daniel Linehan's 46th minute goal for Cork was as decisive as it was eye-catching. The defender took on the responsibility at a vital stage in the contest and soloed forward 30 metres before striking a stunning goal. It put Cork five ahead and they always looked comfortable from there on, increasing their lead to eight by full-time.
Some of Cork's greatest servants began their careers with All-Ireland minor wins. We're thinking Jimmy Barry Murphy (1972), Kevin O'Dwyer and Brian Corcoran (1991), Noel O'Leary (2000). 10 of the 1991 minor team went on to play senior for Cork. Yet even if Cork come up short in next month's final against Galway, Bobbie O'Dwyer's current group looks set to yield a crop of future seniors.