In the end, Cork set-up an All-Ireland quarter-final meeting with Galway on Sunday, but at half-time against Antrim at a windy Corrigan Park, that looked far from certain.
The hosts had recovered from a shaky start when coughing up two early goals and seemingly too open at the back to take a grip and take charges but tellingly, 10 wides ensured they didn’t convert this on the scoreboard.
They will also be disappointed with the manner in which they conceded those early goals as some unforced errors were punished, but manager Darren Gleeson was nonetheless proud of his team that will have Leinster hurling to look forward to in 2023.
“There were 10 wides in the first half and we are disappointed with that,” said the Tipperary native who said there would be no pick decisions on whether he returns as Antrim boss next year.
“Handling errors saw us hand over two goals, so simple things and fine margins playing at the highest level that cost you.
“Going in a point up at half-time should have been more and we needed that to carry us through.
“They got meaningful scores after half-time - out-scoring us three or four to one - and we were out on our feet there with five or six minutes to go as it was a big effort over seven days.
“But they stuck to the task and there’s a huge amount to build on there for Antrim hurling.”
Kieran Kingston’s Rebels opened the game with the intention of blowing the hosts away as they looked hungry for goals, but on each occasion they did hit the net, the Saffrons responded to let them know that they were now going to be walked over.
Indeed, the Saffrons led by 2-11 to 2-10 at the break after James McNaughton and Keelan Molloy cancelled out Cork goals from Darragh Fitzgibbon and Conor Lehane’s penalty, asserting their credentials as a MacCarthy Cup team despite what an All-Ireland Championship launch photo may have suggested in the days leading up to the game when they and Kerry were snubbed.
However, Cork upped it in the second period with Fitzgibbon exceptional to finish with 1-4, Robbie O’Flynn clipping over six points, Lehane finishing with 1-8 and Seamus Harnedy coming alive to register 1-3 with his goal the final act of the game that put a bit of a gloss on the scoreboard that didn’t tell the full tale of this game as the visitors picked off 1-2 in stoppage time with Antrim committed to attack.
“We needed something to ignite and get the crowd behind us there,” Gleeson added.
“The crowd was behind us when we got scores but we just needed more intensity, more work rate to bring the place to life.
“We had opportunities to score and 2-6 we gave to Cork with handling errors.
“That’s the difference and the step-up in standard, but there’s only one way the lads are going to improve is by playing at that level the whole time.
“You couldn’t be anything but proud of what they brought.
“They will be hard on themselves so they will be looking at it as an opportunity missed as everything fell into our favour there today, but we just didn’t make it count the way we could have.”
ANTRIM: R Elliott; D Kearney (0-1), G Walsh, N O’Connor; J Maskey, E Campbell, P Burke (0-1); M Bradley, K Molloy (1-3) J McNaughton (1-9, 0-6 frees), C Clarke, D Nugent; C Cunning (0-2 frees), N McManus (0-1 sideline), S Elliott (0-1)
Subs: C McCann for D Nugent (49), C Bohill for M Bradley (55), C Johnston (0-1) for S Elliott (55), N McKenna for C Cunning (63), D McKernan for J Maskey (68)
CORK: P Collins; D Cahalane, R Downey, S O’Donoghue; N O’Leary, C Joyce, M Coleman (0-1 free); D Fitzgibbon (1-4), L Meade; R O’Flynn (0-6), S Harnedy (1-3), S Kingston; T O’Mahony, A Connolly (0-2), C Lehane (1-8, 1-0 pen, 0-2 frees, 0-1 65)
Subs: C Cahalane (0-1) for S Kingston (29), G Millerick for R Downey (51), T O’Connell for L Meade (58), P Horgan (0-2) for T O’Mahony (61), J O’Connor for A Connolly (68)
Referee: Liam Gordon (Galway)