Seldom any doubt about result
There was seldom any doubt that Cork would come on top in the National Football League clash with Division 1 table-toppers Dublin at Páirc Uí Rinn last Saturday night.
The Rebels had seven points to spare at the finish, a margin that didn't flatter them unduly as they were always in control in the second half when the visitors, trailing by 2-8 to 1-5 at the interval, seemed more intent on avoiding a heavy defeat than in actually trying to win the game.
They had reduced the deficit to four points, 2-9 to 2-5, after Bernard Brogan skinned Cork full back Eoin Cadogan to shoot an excellent goal in the 48th minute.
But, inexplicably, Dublin persisted in packing their defence following that boost, with the result that Cork had little difficulty in regaining the whip-hand, and slowly but surely they eased to safety, knocking over four points on trot before substitute Conal Keaney landed a consolation score from a free for the losers in stoppage time.
It was a convincing Cork victory, but the task was made so much easier because of Dublin's negative tactics, and the comments of Pat Gilroy after the game summed up the manner in which the Metropolitans approached the match.
"We just did not work hard enough in the first half, but our work-rate was a lot better, and we looked a lot more solid in the second half. It meant that at least we didn't really roll-over in the game, and I was much happier with our display after half-time.
"Cork are a big, fast team, and there is no doubt they are the most consistent side in the country over the last year and a half. So, there were bound to give us a lot of problems, and we didn't have enough players covering back in the first half. To concede 2-8 in the opening 35 minutes simply wasn't good enough, and I thought there was a big improvement in the effort we put in the second half," said the Dublin boss.
That the new-look Dubs managed to limit Cork to five points in the second half may have pleased Gilroy, but the reality was that their reluctance to push bodies forward meant they were never going to get anything out of the match.
For a team that went into it with four straight wins under the belt, Dublin's lack of ambition was hard to fathom, and perhaps it was an indication of the growing respect for Conor Counihan's charges nationwide.
Along with the unavailability of Donncha O'Connor and Colm O'Neill, ruled out by suspension and injury respectively following the game against Tyrone the previous weekend, Counihan and his co-mentors had to make two changes to the selected side after Pearse O'Neill and Ger Spillane cried off before the start.
Michael Shields lined out at centre back in place of Spillane, with Eoin Cadogan taking over from Shields at full back, and Paudie Kissane receiving a late call up at left wing back.
Derek Kavanagh made his first appearance in the league, replacing Pearse O'Neill at midfield where he was partnered by Nicholas Murphy, who was returning to duty after injury.
The luckless Murphy lasted just ten minutes before retiring injured, leading to the introduction of debutante Ciaran Sheehan, who came on at full forward, with Alan O'Connor moving from there to fill in for Murphy at midfield.
The enforced reshuffle did little to ruffle home side, however, and both Kavanagh, who landed a couple of inspirational points, and Sheehan made commendable contributions as Cork dictated matters for much of the first half.
Alan O'Connor performed creditably too at midfield, doing the spade-work for Cork's opening goal which was expertly dispatched by Daniel Goulding in the 11th minute.
That made it 1-3 to 0-2, but Dublin were just a point in arrears again after corner forward Kevin McMenamon grabbed a high delivery from midfielder Ross McConnell ahead of Ray Carey to rattle the Cork net ten minutes later.
McMenamon, who had earlier threatened a goal only to be foiled by an excellent block-down from Carey, looked very sharp in Dublin's inside line where Bernard Brogan also posed problems for Eoin Cadogan on occasions.
Apart from their suspect full back line, however, Cork held most of the aces elsewhere, with centre back Michael Shields, and midfielders Kavanagh and O'Connor doing much to power them forward.
John Hayes was constantly in the picture on the 40, while Paddy Kelly made regular headway as well on the left wing, and he unhinged the Dublin rearguard with a powerful run before parting to Paul Kerrigan, who goaled with aplomb to push Cork 2-6 to 1-3 ahead after 26 minutes.
The Dublin defence was clearly under pressure against a Cork attack in which Goulding, Sheehan and Kerrigan all shaped up well in the full forward line, and the hard-working Fintan Goold also paid his way on the right wing.
The threat from Kevin McMenamon was underlined again when he brought the best out of Cork 'keeper Paddy O'Shea just before half-time, but, all in all, Dublin could have no complaints when they went in at the break six points in arrears.
Bernard Brogan's goal in the 48th minute threw them a lifeline, but they lacked the conviction to take the game to Cork, and they spent the rest of the match indulging in what essentially amounted to an exercise in damage limitation.
Time and again, Cork had about four or five unmarked players exchanging passes around midfield as Dublin dropped back behind the ball in numbers, with their key forwards McMenamon and Brogan rendered virtually redundant up front as a consequence.
Inevitably, Cork's persistent probing was rewarded as they gradually prised out the openings, which yielded scores from Sheehan, Goulding, O'Connor and Kerrigan, to finish the match very much in the comfort-zone.
Scorers - Cork: D. Goulding 1-4, 0-2 frees, P. Kerrigan 1-2, P. Kelly, D. Kavanagh and C. Sheehan 0-2 each, A. O'Connor 0-1. Dublin: B. Brogan 1-2, 0-1 free, K. McMenamon 1-1, C. Keaney, free, A. Hubbard and E. Fennell 0-1 each.
Cork: P. O'Shea, R. Carey, E. Cadogan, E. Cotter, N. O'Leary, M. Shields, P. Kissane, N. Murphy, D. Kavanagh, F. Goold, J. Hayes, P. Kelly, D. Goulding, A. O'Connor, P. Kerrigan. Subs: C. Sheehan for Murphy, S. Kiely for O'Leary, C. O'Driscoll for Kissane, F. Lynch for Goulding, B. O'Regan for Cotter.
Dublin: M. Savage, P. Conlon, M. Fitzsimons, P. McMahon, H. Gill, C. O'Sullivan, G. Brennan, E. Fennell, R. McConnell, A. Hubbard, M. McAuley, P. Flynn, D. Henry, B. Brogan, R. McMenamon. Subs: K. Nolan for Brennan, D. Kelly for McAuley, D. Magee for McConnell, C. Keaney for Flynn, McAuley for Fennell.
Referee: P. McEnaney (Monaghan).
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