“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”
American Football coach Red Sanders first enshrined that line in the sporting lexicon some six decades ago, its staying power having stood the test of time right through those intervening years.
Athletes the world over have built careers atop that rock of wisdom, the need to go above and beyond long since a line of demarcation between Ls and Ws.
Those who’ve experienced both sides of the cup final coin can likely relate more than most.
On no other occasion does the merit of performance fade more to insignificance, after all, knockout games very much a results business.
Stephen Kenny will be painfully in tune with that reality now, a second successive final loss at FAI HQ serving to redouble the pain.
That his side shaded the balance of play will be of little consolation either.
“It’s a very harsh way to lose,” he reflected. “To go all the way in extra-time after scoring and lose on a shootout is obviously disappointing.
“We dominated the second half but we couldn’t make the breakthrough. We did in the end and I’m disappointed with the goal we conceded but that’s the nature of football.
“We’ve been dominant for three years – won three league titles, second this year, won the league cup and lost in a penalty shootout. Those are the fine margins.”
Those who glean their glass as half full may well seek to banish memories of Aviva heartache to some chamber of the backburner, the urge to write-off a penalty shootout loss as merely bad lottery luck always a tempting one.
And yet this particular clash smacked of something that bit more important, Kieran Sadlier’s spot-kick confirming Cork’s status as more than just a flash in the pan.
Scenes of Seani Maguire serenading his former teammates at full-time called to mind memories of his smash and grab 12 months prior, the former Dundalk man having blotted an otheriwse lilywhite canvas.
In truth, that 2016 triumph was an exception to Dundalk’s conclusive rule, the Oriel Park outfit’s unprecedented success at home and abroad condemning Cork to slim pickings.
John Caulfield’s men were the team atop the throne come curtain call last weekend, however, 2017’s campaign a green scene on all counts.
Sunday had represented a chance for Dundalk to cut the coronation short, talk that Cork’s sizzling start to this season was lit solely by Maguire’s fire having been heavily-peddled in recent months.
Their errant form following his departure seemed to suggest as much, the Leesiders having uninspiringly limped over the finish line.
Dundalk’s goal-laden run-in was quite the opposite, their rich vein of form all-set to send them bounding into next season on the crest of a wave.
And yet, much like in the league, Cork once more turned the table on Sunday, their conclusive closing salvo at Lansdowne Road very much the sign of champions.
It is they who have now set the tone for the coming year, their keenness to maintain top billing in 2018 matched only by Dundalk’s desire to claw it back.
The transfer rumour mill suggests changes to both casts of characters may already be afoot, but the overriding narrative seems certain to endure.
Sunday ensured Cork won this season’s battle; the margin of victory confirmed that the war will roll on.
This article originally appeared on The Season Ticket.