00:00 Saturday 15 March 2008  Written by Noel Horgan

Cork take a while to get going !

Cork......................................3-18

Dublin...................................2-16

IT was a satisfactory start to the Allianz National League campaign by the Cork hurlers at Parnell Park last Sunday. Nine points behind with 20 minutes gone in the first half, the Rebels rallied before the break, and, aided by a stiff breeze, they increased the tempo on the turnover to register a merited victory.

Perhaps the five-point gap between the sides at the finish does scant justice to Dublin's effort, and it wasn't until substitute Fintan O'Leary flicked a Kieran Murphy sideline ball to the net in stoppage time that Cork secured the laurels. But the visitors were certainly the better team overall, and the difference in class was highlighted by some inspirational scores from Tom Kenny, Timmy McCarthy, Patrick Cronin, Kieran McGann and Neil Ronan during the course of the second half.

Ronan finished with a personal tally of 2-4, booting home his first goal inside two minutes following good work by McCarthy and Cronin. That pushed Cork 1-0 to 0-1 ahead, but, more importantly, it served to sustain them as Dublin proceeded to dictate matters for a lengthy spell.

Given that it was Cork's first competitive outing since last year's All-Ireland quarter-final replay against Waterford, and that just eight of the players who started in that game lined out on this occasion, it was easy to appreciate why they took so long to get their act together.

They managed to trim the deficit to six points towards the end of the first half, however, and team coach Gerald McCarthy felt that the foundations for victory were laid in this period.

"That was the key really, because it would have been very difficult to bridge the gap had we been eight or nine points down at half-time, especially since Dublin would have gone in with their tails up. But our backs, in particular, steadied up a lot, and we brought in a few subs which worked out well for us.

"It was pleasing the way that the lads dug deep to win the game, but the main thing about today is that we are back playing top-class hurling," he said.

SHARPER

With two games under the belt, Dublin were by far the sharper side early on, and, even allowing for the wind, they were entitled to fancy their chances after full forward Kevin Flynn rifled in a goal to make it 1-8 to 1-1 in the 15th minute.

They added two more points before Brian Corry landed his second score for Cork, and Patrick Horgan, fed by Corry, further reduced the deficit to provide the first indication that the trend of the play was about to change.

Still, Dublin almost grabbed a second goal in the 28th minute when Peadar Carlton his the side-netting after being presented with a golden opportunity by David O'Callaghan. O'Callaghan had proved quite a handful for Cian O'Connor up to that point, but the introduction of Shane Murphy for the injured O'Connor brought immediate results for Cork before half-time.

Murphy fared out much better on O'Callaghan, while Tom Kenny made a significant impact at midfield as Cork crept back into contention, courtesy of two points from frees by John Gardiner and Patrick Horgan which sandwiched another from play by Neil Ronan.

Ronan saw precious little of the ball for most of the first half as Cork were generally forced to play second fiddle at midfield and in the half forward line. In fairness, newcomer Brian Corry had his moments on the 40, and, having notched two good points and set Patrick Horgan up for another, the Ballymartle clubman showed definite potential before the break.

None of the other Cork forwards were especially convincing, however, although Timmy McCarthy was very much involved in the lead-up to Neil Ronan's goal, and it was his good work that also allowed Ronan to finish the first half with 1-1 to his credit.

Besides Cian O'Connor, wing backs Eoin Cadogan and Kieran McGann were slow to settle in defence, while John Gardiner wasn't exactly a commanding figure at centre back. The new Cork skipper was quietly effective at the same time as were Shane O'Neill and Diarmuid O'Sullivan in a full back line that grew in stature following Shane Murphy's installation in the left corner.

Patrick Cronin did his bit to curb Dublin's momentum when roaming deep from corner forward, and, in view of their sluggish start, Cork must have been satisfied to be just six points adrift, 1-12 to 1-6, at the interval.

Cronin reverted to an orthodox role at corner forward in the second half when Tom Kenny was partnered at midfield by Kieran Murphy, who had been moved out from wing forward in a switch with a struggling Jason Barrett during the opening period. Murphy never really got into the game, but Kenny's excellence ensured that Cork enjoyed much the better of the midfield exchanges after the break.

In addition, John Gardiner upped his performance at centre back, and Kieran McGann found his feet on the left wing, while Kevin Hartnett completed a dominant Cork half back line on replacing Eoin Cadogan after 45 minutes. With Shane O'Neill, Diarmuid O'Sullivan and Shane Murphy equally unyielding in front of Donal Óg Cusack, Dublin found openings increasingly difficult to come by in the second half.

By contrast, the Cork attack, with Neil Ronan, Timmy McCarthy and, to a lesser extent, Patrick Cronin leading the charge, moved much more menacingly, and it seemed as if Dublin were about to be overwhelmed after Ronan poached his second goal to make it 2-11 to 1-13 in the 49th minute. That chance came about after Tom Kenny took a pass from McCarthy before completing a strong run with a low shot which was parried by Dublin custodian Gary Maguire, leaving Ronan with the simple task of steering the rebound home from close-range.

Ronan quickly added a point before Dublin briefly threatened to derail Cork's recovery.

They were 2-15 to 2-12 to the good after David O'Callaghan sent substitute Peter Kelly through for a goal in the 54th minute, but they added just a point in the remaining time which came from a free by O'Callaghan after Shane Murphy was unfairly penalised for overcarrying.

That was one of several questionable calls made by the referee, and it left Dublin snapping at Cork's heels, 2-17 to 2-16, nearing the end of normal time. But Patrick Cronin quickly replied with a point before Fintan O'Leary embellished Cork's victory with his late goal.

In what was a lively encounter, Cork's display was as good as could have been expected following their lengthy lay-off, and they certainly came up with most of the answers in the second half when Tom Kenny exerted a huge influence at midfield to earn a man-of-the-match rating ahead of top marksman Neil Ronan in my book.

Scorers - Cork: N. Ronan 2-4, F. O'Leary 1-0, T. Kenny 0-3, J. Gardiner 0-3 frees, B.Corry and P. Cronin 0-2 each, P. Horgan 0-2, 0-1 free, K. McGann and T. McCarthy 0-1 each. Dublin: S. Mullen 0-7, 0-6 frees, D. O'Callaghan 0-5, 0-2 frees, K. Flynn and P. Kelly 1-0 each, D. O'Dwyer 0-2, R. O'Carroll and J. McCaffrey 0-1 each.

Cork: D. Óg Cusack, S. O'Neill, D. O'Sullivan, C. O'Connor, E. Cadogan, J. Gardiner, K. McGann, T. Kenny, J. Barrett, K. Murphy, B. Corry, T. McCarthy, P. Horgan, N. Ronan, P. Cronin. Subs: K. Canty for Barrett, S. Murphy for O'Connor (injured), K. Hartnett for Cadogan, F. O'Leary for Horgan.

Dublin: G. Maguire, P. Brennan, S. Hiney, P. Bergin, M. Carton, T. Brady, J. Boland, J. McCaffrey, S. Lambert, S. Mullen, D. O'Dwyer, R. O'Carroll, D. O'Callaghan, K. Flynn, P. Carlton. Subs: P. Kelly for Mullen, A. McCrabbe for Carlton, D. Curtin for Mullen

Referee: S. Whelan, Wexford.

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