KIERAN McCARTHY REPORTS
CORK footballers will live to fight another season in Division 2, but they made hard work of avoiding relegation in this shoot-out at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday afternoon.
It took three second-half goals to steer this Division 2 relegation play-off in Cork’s favour, as they turned a 0-14 to 0-12 half-time deficit into a six-point winning margin, but this was far from a convincing display.
Westmeath, now relegated to Division 3 off the back of this loss, will rue missed goal chances in both halves, with Sam McCartan hitting the post in the first period when his side were leading 0-13 to 0-11.
For Cork, it’s relief as they avoided an instant return to Division 3. Goals in the third quarter from sub Mark Collins and Luke Connolly were key, and then sub Brian Hurley, who kicked 1-4 when he came on, added a third goal to give Cork some breathing space down the home stretch.
While avoiding relegation was the main target here, Cork will be disappointed with their first-half performance as Westmeath were the better team, led by John Heslin who finished the game with 0-12, including eight frees.
Cathail O’Mahony, who went off injured late in the first half, caught the eye in the opening stages for Cork and racked up three points in the opening five minutes as the home side led 0-3 to 0-2, but then Westmeath reeled off four in a row to take control. Ronan O’Toole, Ray Connellon, Ger Egan and the influential John Heslin were all on target for the visitors who looked like scoring in every attack as they carved open the Cork defence at will. By the first-half water break Westmeath had eased into a 0-10 to 0-6 lead, with Luke Connolly (free), Ruairi Deane and John O’Rourke points keeping Cork in touch.
The water break came at the right point for Cork as it gave them the chance to regroup and stop Westmeath’s momentum. The Rebels’ response saw them score five of the next six points to haul themselves level, 0-11 apiece, by the 28th minute. Three Luke Connolly frees and efforts from Paul Walsh and Sean White were only met by a Heslin free.
But Cork didn’t drive on when they had the upper hand and it was Westmeath who finished the half stronger to lead 0-14 to 0-12 at the break.
The third quarter was decisive. Sub Collins finished off a move that saw Connolly arrow an inch-perfect ball into Hurley, who offloaded to his Castlehaven team-mate to make it 1-14 to 0-15. Westmeath’s response was three points in a row to retake the lead before Cork struck for a second goal. Ian Maguire powered through the heart of the Westmeath defence in the 45th minute and passed to Connolly, who palmed the ball home to make it 2-14 to 0-18.
Dogged Westmeath weren’t going away though, and stayed within striking distance until Hurley’s goal, set up by Kevin O’Donovan, moved Cork 3-18 to 0-22 ahead, and they stayed there until the end.
Cork: Luke Connolly 1-4f; Brian Hurley 1-4 (1f); Mark Collins 1-1 (1f); Cathail O’Mahony, Daniel Dineen (m) 0-3 each; Paul Walsh 0-2; Ruairi Deane, John O’Rourke, Sean White, Brian Hartnett, Colm O’Callaghan 0-1 each.
Westmeath: John Heslin 0-12 (8f, 1m); Ray Connellon, Ger Egan, Lorcan Dolan, Ronan O’Toole 0-3 each; Sam McCartan 0-1.
Cork: Micheál Martin; Kevin Flahive, Sean Meehan, Sean White; Kevin O’Donovan, Mattie Taylor, Cian Kiely; Ian Maguire, Paul Walsh; John O’Rourke, Ruairi Deane, Kevin O’Driscoll; Daniel Dineen, Luke Connolly, Cathail O’Mahony.
Subs: Mark Collins for J O’Rourke (30, inj), Brian Hurley for C O’Mahony (35, inj), Brian Hartnett for R Deane (53 ,inj), T Corkery for C Kiely (53), Eoghan McSweeney for S White (61), Damien Gore for Luke Connolly (61), Colm O’Callaghan for K O’Donovan (68).
Westmeath: Jason Daly; Jack Smith, Kevin Maguire, Boidu Sayeh; James Dolan, Ronan Wallace, Jamie Gonoud; Denis Corron, Sam Duncan; David Lynch, Ronan O’Toole, Ray Connellon; Ger Egan, John Heslin, Lorcan Dolan.
Subs: Sam McCartan for Jack Smith (25), Darren Giles for Ray Connellon (40), Noel Mulligan for J Gonoud (51), Fola Ayorinde for S Duncan (51), Sam Maxwell for L Dolan (67).
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).