BY DENIS HURLEY
PERHAPS we’re showing our vintage with a Mark Robins reference, given that Luke Connolly was yet to be born when the striker scored the goal to save Alex Ferguson’s job.
An FA Cup third-round tie away to Nottingham Forest in 1990 was set to be a make-or-break game for the Scot, who had yet to make an impact since moving to Manchester United from Aberdeen in 1986.
Forest were quite a formidable side back then, but Robins got the only goal in a 1-0 win and United went on to win the cup and then the European Cup Winners’ Cup the following season before becoming perennial title challengers.
United’s then-chairman Martin Edwards would later say that it didn’t all rest on that one game but then such a proclamation was easy to make in hindsight.
Peadar Healy probably wouldn’t have lost his job if Cork had lost to Tipperary last Saturday night – because of the logistics of changing management during the season if nothing else – but defeat would certainly have meant that the next defeat would signal the end of his term.
He may wish to depart at the end of this year anyway, and it’s unlikely that Cork will become the Manchester United of Gaelic football, but certainly things have been made a bit easier by Connolly’s late intervention.
When Conor Sweeney met Colm O’Shaughnessy’s delivery to put Tipp 1-9 to 0-10 in front in the 69th minute, in the stands there was a ‘we’ve seen it all before’ silence, broken only by the Tipp celebrations.
With the year Cork have had, there was a kind of inevitability to it all. A creditable second-half comeback, from a position of near-despair, was going to count for nothing because of the ultimate pathos, the concession of a late goal.
On the field, though, the team remained what the New Zealand rugby team refer to as ‘blue-headed’, i.e. they kept their cool rather than panicking at having so little time. Sub Michael Hurley made a break, he linked with James Loughrey, who in turn off-loaded to Mark Collins.
The Castlehaven man’s distribution is one of his many strengths – qualities which should make him an automatic starter, but we’ll leave that debate for another day – and his perfectly weighted pass allowed Connolly to palm home. Afterwards, Cork captain Paul Kerrigan expressed his joy that a training-ground move had been executed when the pressure was at its greatest.
‘They were conceding the kick-outs to us and it was something we practiced an awful lot,’ he said, ‘especially after the Waterford game and it worked out perfectly, it was something we worked on in training.
‘Michael Hurley made a great burst through the middle, they tried to take him down, got away and Mark showed great composure and Luke has beautiful hands and it fell to the right fella.’
One would hope that the win would provide a much-needed injection of confidence. It’s a quality which can’t really be over-estimated – to use another soccer analogy, how many times have we seen teams supposedly ‘too good to go down’ suffer a relegation as they suffer loss after loss, despite having players of a level much higher than their standing in the league table?
Cork probably won’t beat Kerry in the Munster final, but on a day, any team can beat any other side. If a win was to be plundered and Kerrigan lifted the Munster cup, would all of the criticism up until have to be re-evaluated as being too harsh?
Even with a loss in Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney on July 2nd , there will be a round four qualifier against far-from-invincible opposition for a place in the last eight.
That may sound defeatist, that a quarter-final spot is seen as a victory, but it would represent an improvement on the past two years. If Jeremy Corbyn was considered the big winner in the British general election for suffering a narrower loss than Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown, we’ll have to take the small victories where we can.
For the management, relief must be the over-riding emotion. The frustration of trying to achieve something and constantly hitting a brick wall can’t be measured. At half-time, a Cork fan loudly accosted two of the management who were watching from the stand, asking if they had restored some pride.
The mentors managed to keep their counsel, but the temptation must have been there to rear up and list the hours put in, for no financial reward. When Connolly goaled, their joy was clear to see.
The thing about sport is that time never stands still and the work must increase ahead of the Munster final. They will at least go into the game with greater belief than at any time in the past couple of years.