Cork v Dublin
Cork Footballers beat Dublin by 1 goal, and 1 point
Roinn 1 01/02 14:00
Cork 18 - 16 Dublin

Such is the stampede to wave off discernible signs of early season promise as erroneous, we tend to ignore some good stuff too.

Cork have started league campaigns well before — habitually, they flourish in February — but there was enough about their backbone at Páirc Ui Rinn yesterday to indicate they’ve emerged relatively clear-headed from a demoralising six months.

Brian Cuthbert might have nonchalantly dismissed the McGrath Cup defeat to Waterford last month, but if it was followed by a spanking at home to an experimental Dublin yesterday, the length of time it would take for crisis headlines to appear could be calculated by an egg-timer.

Hence, this was a heartening start to 2015 for Cork football. At various intervals yesterday, Dublin looked no more than a score away from putting themselves, and the game, out of Cork’s reach. Four successive Dublin points followed the only goal of the game, when Cork’s Jamie O’Sullivan bundled a scrambled effort from man of the match, Conor Dorman, over the line.

The subsequent Dublin scoreburst put Jim Gavin’s side 0-7 to 1-2 ahead after 21 minutes.

In the second half, Cork started very scrappily, and with 15 minutes remaining, they again trailed 0-15 to 1-10 after Kevin McManamon and Dean Rock pointed, the latter making up impressive ground from midfield to present himself for the chance. A few minutes earlier, a mess-up between Cadogan and Loughrey presented a proper goal chance for Dublin, but keeper Ken O’Halloran guessed right as Eoghan O’Gara attempted to give Cormac Costello the easy goal, and cleared to safety. At that point, the visitors looked well placed, a point not lost on their manager.

“We put ourselves in a very dominant position and had that goal chance, but we didn’t take it,” mused Gavin. “But from the players we had representing the county today, a lot of guys got their first taste of National League football. So I think in the long term this will benefit Dublin,” he said.

However Dublin would only add one more point in the remaining 17 minutes of football, and yes, some of that was down to a quartet of subs made by the visitors. But it was also the final quarter when Cork surged defiantly for the finishing line. Maybe their desperation to succeed was that bit greater, and spiced by the defeat in Clashmore to Waterford.

In the two-man full-forward line, Colm O’Neill and Brian Hurley presented themselves as willing options throughout. Now they were getting support from deep from Conor Dorman, Mark Collins and the impressive 20-year-old midfielder Ian Maguire. Little wonder the St Finbarr’s man earned a rapturous ovation when he was withdrawn.

“He’s a good young fella, but he’s only a young fella,” Cuthbert cautioned afterwards. “He needs time, you can see today that he made a couple of small errors — which is perfectly fine — but what he’ll give is 100% and I would see him long-term as being a mainstay of this Cork team. I’m very pleased to have him.”

Another mainstay will surely be Colm O’Neill, whose five-point contribution was the single biggest attacking reason Cork are two league points to the good. When he and Hurley levelled the game at 1-12 to 0-15 with 12 minutes left, Cork had this one in a choke-hold. Mention too for the wiry intensity of the O’Driscoll brothers, especially Brian, and Eoin Cadogan, who capped an assured display at the back by driving forward for a crucial 65th-minute point that put Cork two in front, 1-14 to 0-15.

If Dublin’s changes checked their momentum, Cork’s drove theirs. Paul Kerrigan did well in the second half, and Fintan Goold was a physical obstacle at centre-back. When they need to retain possession in the last 10 minutes, John Hayes provided the poise and precision.

Interestingly, the Cork manager suggested afterwards that his players recognised this opener as a “must-win” game — more for the daunting number of away fixtures in Ulster, and for the fact that Dublin were under-strength.

“I’d like to think that we played decent enough football today. The way the national league works, you have these two games and then a break of three weeks so momentum can be broken. It’s something we learned last year, and it’s a cliché, but every game is different, every team will have three or four different ways of playing, depending on the opposition.”

That from Cuthbert in itself is a tacit recognition his management team has taken on some of the harsh 2014 lessons. One size doesn’t fit all. Cork dropped Colm O’Driscoll and the excellent John O’Rourke deeper yesterday, but there’s work to be done on the two-plus-two offence that this creates. Donal Óg Hodnett is perhaps not best suited to the toil and sweat that one of the two remaining half-forwards is charged with. Donncha O’Connor, who missed out yesterday, or Paddy Kelly, are better suited. Certainly Kerrigan’s introduction added more punch from deep, with Collins going to midfield and Goold dropping back to No 6.

Cuthbert will also recognise that deeper into the season, sides will drop a defender in front of his marquee forwards, Hurley and Colm O’Neill.

Gavin, meanwhile, will wonder how success didn’t materialise from his side’s first-half superiority.

Kevin McManamon had Loughrey in bother in the full-forward line while Dean Rock and the midfielders — Denis Bastick and Shane Carthy — were the picks of the middle eight in the opening half.

Indeed, the most aesthetically pleasing moment of the first half — which had the purists salivating — was a superb piece of fielding from Bastick in the 33rd minute.

All the better then that he found Carthy who supplied Rock for the point. Level again at 1-5 to 0-8.

But the closing minutes of the first period were a portent of things to come. Dublin looking fluid, Cork gritty in the tight exchanges. O’Rourke swung over a super left-footed point and O’Neill converted an awkward looking free from close to the sideline for a 1-7 to 0-9 half-time lead for Cork.

A nice platform for Cuthbert and Cork to push on from.

11/09/2015 08:36