Kingdom's absence the perfect motivator for Cork
DEEP in the cavernous bowels of Croke Park on a Saturday afternoon in June 2004, Billy Morgan issued a chilling prognosis for the future of Cork football.
The then-Cork manager had just witnessed his side's elimination from the All-Ireland qualifiers by Fermanagh, who had stunned their confident opponents with a final-quarter flourish that took them from a three-point deficit to a six-point victory.
Over the next six weeks, Fermanagh would beat Donegal, Armagh and take Mayo to a replay in the All-Ireland semi-final but clearly Morgan didn't regard them as such a formidable force, even after the win over Cork.
Instead, he concentrated on perceived problems back home, ones which he believed were deep-rooted and potentially damaging in the medium to long-term.
"Cork football is at a low ebb at the moment and we have to look at everything from U-14 up because the standard isn't there as far as we're concerned," he said.
Six years on, Cork have won three Munster senior, four Munster U-21, two Munster minor and two All-Ireland U-21 titles.
In addition, Cork seniors haven't lost in the championship to any county other than Kerry since the Fermanagh defeat six years and two months ago. They have also beaten Kerry three times in that period.
Morgan stayed on as manager until the end of the 2007 season, which ended with a big defeat by Kerry in the All-Ireland final.
It was Cork's third successive defeat by their neighbours at Croke Park during his stewardship but the bad run has continued under Conor Counihan, for whom a draw two years ago is the best he has to show from three clashes with Kerry at HQ.
If, in June 2004, Cork were told that Kerry would be the only team to beat them in Croke Park over the next six years, they would have gladly accepted it in the belief that it would have prompted a few visits from Sam Maguire.
Instead, the nearest he has come to them is while dozing on the train as it powered its way to Kerry on four occasions.
Right down through championship history, Kerry wrecked more Cork campaigns than anybody else but the big difference since the introduction of the All-Ireland qualifiers in 2001 has been largely down to the venue.
Cork have been matching Kerry in Munster but not in Croke Park where they have lost in seven of eight attempts (plus one draw) since 2002.
It's a dismal return by Cork who have lost to Kerry in Croke Park for each of the last five seasons. Now, with Kerry eliminated, there should be a real fizz in Cork's approach, especially since all the other counties who won All-Ireland titles stretching as far back as 1996 are gone too.
Kerry's torture of Cork in Croke Park has been relentless and now it remains to be seen what impact the demise of their persecutors will have.
It didn't exactly inspire them in the quarter-final, where it wasn't until the last 20 minutes that they asserted themselves against a Roscommon team that had emerged from the lowest standard Connacht championship for quite some years.
That's not meant to be disparaging to Roscommon, but the performances of Galway and Mayo -- both in the provincials and qualifiers -- were way below the levels expected of the province's traditional 'Big Two'.
While Cork couldn't sort out the Kerry problem in Croke Park, they had a good record against others, including Tyrone, Meath and Galway, who between them won seven All-Ireland titles since 1996.
Dublin's experience over the last five years has been somewhat different to Cork's.
They didn't lose in Leinster between June 2004 and last June but made little progress beyond that. They lost to Kerry (twice), Tyrone (twice) and Mayo in All-Ireland quarter/semi-finals, raising legitimate questions over their capacity to deal with non-Leinster teams.
Indeed, those questions were always going to continue until they put a decent run together, involving teams with a championship pedigree. Beating Armagh in the qualifiers started the process but it was the victory over Tyrone that really announced their arrival as a coherent All-Ireland force.
It still hasn't impressed the betting public, who have left Dublin as 13/8 outsiders despite the county's excellent championship record against Cork.
Victory in the 1989 All-Ireland semi-final was Cork's only championship success over Dublin in 13 attempts. It leaves Cork in the uncomfortable position of wondering if Dublin are now set to replace Kerry as their Croke Park tormentors.
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