On a Sunday that went from a calm spring morning to a cold, wet afternoon, Cork warmed the cockles with a brilliant win over Wolfe Tones from Boston in a game that took two periods of overtime before the final result was in.
Alan Rafferty was the captain fantastic as he led his select side to the tremendous win that gave the Rebels back-to-back John Joe Cassidy titles. They won last year's championship when they comprehensively beat Four Provinces, but this one was far more difficult.
The day began with eight teams involved -- Tyrone A, Cavan A, Wolfe Tones, and Rangers were in Group 1, while Cavan B, Tyrone B, Kerry and Cork were in Group 2.
First game up was Cork and Kerry, with the eventual winners starting the day off in fine fashion, a 2-5 to 1-4 win. Cork ran the board to secure the top slot in their division with wins over Cavan, 3-8 to 1-2, and Tyrone by 3-6 to 1-5. Rafferty, Brendan McGourty and Jason Kelly were very prominent in all the wins.
After both Cavan (6-6 to 2-3) and Kerry (2-3 to 1-2) beat Tyrone, the final game of the group left the runners up slot and a spot in the semis up for grabs. In a very tight contest the Breffni Boys went through with the slimmest of margins, 1-2 to 0-4 after tremendous play from Michael Smith, Gerry Fitzpatrick and Sean McGivney.
Group 2 also had a clear leader in Wolfe Tones, who had come down from Boston for the afternoon of competitive football. They had three convincing wins -- 3-7 to 0-4 over Rangers, 0-8 to 0-1 over Tyrone and 3-9 to 1-4 over Cavan A. It set them up for a tilt with Cavan B in the semifinal.
While Cavan used seven goals to defeat Rangers 7-1 to 2-4, they had a little more work to do against Tyrone but secured the runners up slot with a 3-6 to 1-5 victory. The final game of the group was a Rangers win over Tyrone for bragging rights, 2-6 to 0-4.
The two semifinals were nondescript easy wins for both Cork and Wolfe Tones to set up the final pairing -- the Corkonians 4-7 to 1-4 over Cavan A, while Boston had a 3-6 to 0-2 win over Cavan B.
The first break of the day then before Rosie O’Reilly of the host club announced that the final would be over 12 minute halves with extra time played if needed. How prophetic were her words!
Cork won the toss and they attacked immediately and had the first score, a goal by Jason Kelly when he stormed in the left wing. He followed with a point before the Tones had a point in reply from Mike O’Brien.
With five minutes on the clock Cork had their second major, a Rafferty goal when McGourty did most of the work before the captain finished the move. It was their last score for a period, however, as Boston replied with five unanswered points from a variety of distances.
Marty Farrell, the former Down minor had two, while O’Brien also grabbed a pair. While they were moving the ball to the half, and slotting over, Cork were pushing the ball forward for goal chances and it paid dividends again when James Huvane made keeper Joey Farrell dive bravely, but Huvane met the rebound soccer style for the third Cork major for a 3-2 to 0-6 point lead.
When Niall McMahon had Cork's third point they had a double score lead at the first break.
Kelly opened the second half with another point, but it preceded a period of Tones dominance when they had five of the next seven scores. While four points by Sean Kelly (two) and O’Brien set the stage in reply to John Fitzpatrick and Rafferty scores, the game was turned on its head with an O’Brien goal with five minutes left on the clock.
It was now 1-11 to 3-7 with Boston still on the ascension. Two further points had the sides level with a minute on the clock.
While Rafferty pushed Cork ahead with a point from play it was immediately negated by a Farrell score to push the game into extra time, 3-8 to 1-14. Five minutes each way was the news from the organizers. Would that be enough to decide what was now a riveting affair?
For the first time Wolfe Tones found the range before Cork when Gary Brilly, the former Wexford senior, had an excellent point. Dennis McCarthy cancelled it, but Brilly again and the now very prominent Sean Kelly edged their side into a two point advantage as three minutes had elapsed.
Jason Kelly sprang forward as a savior before the short whistle with a brace of scores. Kelly had his third in a row when he opened the second half. It was met, however, by one of the best scores of the day, a sublime Brilly effort that was a high towering kick that circled over umpire Frankie Dwyer’s crossbar.
Cork again went on the offensive and won a 50. Rafferty took it short to Huvane and received the back pass before slotting over. They were back in front again, but they were made to defend heroically when Raff had a big block from Brilly before Huvane had a timely interception.
After Sean Kelly was fouled, Farrell chipped over to again tie up the contest with a minute on the clock. It was then that Cork thought they had finally won the game when McGourty and Brian Argue set up Huvane for an excellent goal.