Cork pile it on in second half
Precious few problems for the Cork hurlers as they opened their campaign in the National League with a decisive win over Offaly at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Sunday.
The newly promoted Faithful County side did threaten to make a fight of it in a tentative first half, at the end of which the teams were tied at 0-9 apiece. But they were completely outgunned after the break, with Cork raising their performance to a level that Joe Dooley's men were patently unable to match.
Given that Cork had 12 players with championship experience on board, it was hardly a surprise that they made a positive start to the new season at the expense of a team rated well down the pecking-order at the moment.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the day was the form of Ronan Curran and John Gardiner, both of whom had struggled to reach their customary heights in 2009. Curran was back to his polished and commanding best at centre back, while Gardiner was always in the thick of the action at midfield, adorning a workmanlike display with five points, four from placed balls.
Cork's top marksman was Patrick Horgan, who looked razor-sharp at left corner forward, and, along with full forward Aisake Ó hAilpín, he carried the main threat in attack in the first half.
Ó hAilpín caused problems for the Offaly defence anytime the ball came his way during the opening period, winning three frees which yielded points from Horgan. It prompted Offaly to restructure their full back line before half-time, with David Kenny moving from the left corner to the edge of the square in a switch with the troubled Paul Cleary.
Kenny fared out a bit better on Ó hAilpín, but the latter remained a handful, and it was by no means unfitting that he should have the satisfaction of grabbing the goal which removed all lingering doubts about the outcome approaching the last five minutes.
New team captain Kieran 'Fraggie' Murphy also had a fruitful outing in the full forward line, doing much to kick-start Cork's improvement after the break.
After John Gardiner converted a long-range free to inch Cork ahead on the resumption, Fraggie tacked on another point following an excellent block-down on an attempted clearance by Offaly wing back Derek Morkan before earning a free which allowed Horgan to make it 0-12 to 0-9 inside 43 minutes.
Horgan, fed by Lorcan McLoughlin, stretched the gap before turning provider for an excellent point notched by Mark O'Sullivan, and, in the wake of that flurry of scores, the writing was very much on the wall for Offaly.
Trailing by 0-15 to 0-10, their hopes were rekindled in the 57th minute when a probing cross by Brian Carroll broke kindly for Shane Dooley, who was left with the simple task of knocking the ball home from the edge of the square.
Offaly were unable to draw inspiration from that boost, however, and Cork responded with another pointed free by Gardiner before Aisake delivered the killer-blow. It seemed as if the chance was lost after Aisake failed to hold a high delivery from Gardiner, but he reacted smartly when the ball fell to the ground, steering it past Offaly 'keeper James Dempsey with a one-handed flick.
Although Shane Dooley landed the next point for Offaly, they failed to score again, and their return of just 1-2 in the second half is testimony to the control which Cork enjoyed at the back after the interval.
Curran was a majestic figure in the pivotal position, receiving excellent support from his flankers Brian Murphy, whose tidy and economical play was a feature of the game, and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín.
Shane O'Neill and the ultra-consistent Shane Murphy were equally unyielding at either side of Eoin Cadogan, who ruled with a firm hand at full back after replacing the injured David Cunningham at half time.
Cunningham was one of three Cork players making a league debut, and, apart from an error which allowed full forward Ger Healion to set Brian Carroll for the game's opening score, he put in a solid 35 minutes in front of Donal Óg Cusack.
Without exactly setting the world on fire, Cork's other newcomers Lorcan McLoughlin and Mark O'Sullivan didn't look out of their depth either in the half forward line where Niall McCarthy, who arguably posted the best score of the match to push the home side 0-15 to 0-10 ahead 16 minutes into the second half, also showed up well on occasions.
The first half was a pedestrian affair, and, with Cork guilty of a certain amount of slackness at the back, Offaly matched them score for score before Donal Óg Cusack was called upon to make a fine save from Conor Mahon in the 16th minute.
It wasn't until Fraggie Murphy, placed by a precision pass from John Gardiner, found the target to make it 0-7 to 0-5 in the 20th minute that the teams were separated by more than a point.
After Cork had stretched the gap to three points, Offaly's Shane Dooley landed a hat-trick of late scores from frees, but the Midlanders' limitations were glaringly exposed in a lop-sided second half.
Michael Cussen, one of four substitutes introduced in the closing stages, did well at wing forward, chipping in with a point before winning a free which enabled Patrick Horgan to put seven between the sides.
Gardiner, fed by Tom Kenny who had a quiet outing at midfield, Horgan and Fraggie Murphy, who fired over a brace, shared the last four Cork scores, all of which came from play.
Scorers - Cork: P. Horgan 0-9, 0-5 frees, J. Gardiner 0-5, 0-4 frees, K. Murphy 0-4, A. Ó hAilpín 1-0, N. McCarthy 0-2, M. O'Sullivan and M. Cussen 0-1 each. Offaly: S. Dooley 1-8, 0-7 frees, B. Carroll, C. Mahon and C. Parlon 0-1 each.
Cork: D. Óg Cusack, S. O'Neill, D. Cunningham. S. Murphy, B. Murphy, R. Curran, S. Óg Ó hAilpín, J. Gardiner, T. Kenny, L. McLoughlin, M. O'Sullivan, N. McCarthy, K. Murphy, A. Ó hAilpín, P. Horgan. Subs: E. Cadogan for Cunningham (injured), C. McCarthy for O'Sullivan, M. Cussen for N. McCarthy, F. O'Leary for McLoughlin, R. Ryan for S. Óg Ó hAilpín.
Offaly: J. Dempsey, J. Rigney, P. Cleary, D. Kenny, D. Hayden, G. Oakley, D. Morkan, D. Horan, R. Hannify, C. Parlon, C. Mahon, B. Carroll, S. Dooley, G. Healion, J. Bergin. Subs: K. Brady for Oakley, D. Currams for Parlon, D. Molloy for Carroll.
Referee: M. Wadding Waterford).
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