Vincent Hogan: McCarthy strikes killer blow for Cork
Published 26/07/2010 | 05:00
A game that will be remembered as little more than a flower arrangement tossed our way in the preamble to an epic.
Actually, set against the fork lightning that followed, this was gentle candlepower in Croke Park. Antrim proved game and decently obstinate, yet Cork never quite looked a team with their foot to the floor. They won with a wrinkled performance that we can take won't have Kilkenny hyper-ventilating in contemplation of their looming All- Ireland semi-final meeting on Sunday week.
That game will bear regal colours, yet it remains a moot point if Cork still hold a performance in them to go hip-to-hip with Brian Cody's style council.
So much of what they interpreted as their future in the May destruction of Tipperary now seems to sit in small pieces on the floor. Aisake O hAilpin had another difficult day at full-forward while Michael Cussen spent much of his shift stumbling about in quicksand.
The 'twin-towers', as we media flirts like to call them, had both been de-commissioned inside 55 minutes. So, while Cork were rolling serenely into the last four, they still looked a team pretty much planning business on the hoof.
The game's decisive moment arrived in first-half injury-time when Niall McCarthy adjusted brilliantly to bat home a Canal End goal after torqueing onto O hAilpin's clever handpass. Until that moment, Antrim looked as if they believed another famous coup was within them.
Liam Watson would have an extraordinary day, first at full-forward and -- latterly -- on the 'forty'.
Indeed, his closing tally of 0-6 from play again called into question Antrim's ongoing struggle to lure him from the winter charms of soccer and Donegal Celtic.
The big Shamrocks man is a complex, independent character who played no part in last year's championship and has had only fitful involvement this term.
Dinny Cahill re-introduced him to the county jersey towards the latter stages of the Allianz National League, but a suspension quickly followed.
He has a history of stepping in and out of the Antrim dressing-room and even took a brief sabbatical in the build-up to this year's Leinster championship tie with Offaly.
If he was an ordinary hurler, chances are management would lose patience.
But Watson isn't ordinary. He gave a succession of markers untold difficulty yesterday and, if his day ended prematurely with a second yellow after yanking away John Gardiner's helmet and tossing it 30 metres, it couldn't detract from the reality that he was the classiest forward on the premises.
In tandem with Neil McManus's frees, Watson kept Antrim coming at Cork when it was clear the beaten Munster finalists weren't exactly ratcheted to a war footing.
McCarthy was again the best of the Cork forwards, though Kieran 'Fraggy' Murphy (sited on the 'forty') and Paudie O'Sullivan pretty much nailed down their starting positions too for that upcoming tilt at the Cats.
Watson's heroics apart, Antrim rarely looked like identifying a direct route to Donal Og Cusack's goal and, while the northerners' tally of 0-19 was more than respectable, almost half of it was accumulated through frees.
Denis Walsh is hopeful that Shane O'Neill, Sean Og O hAilpin and Jerry O'Connor will all be available for Sunday week and he will have been pleased that, for all of Antrim's legitimate physicality, there were no more admissions to the emergency ward.
They led 0-4 to 0-0 after seven minutes but, by the time Watson opened his account after 13 minutes, Antrim had already halved the deficit.
Cormac Donnelly was dominating O hAilpin and there was a palpable sense that Cork were struggling a little to tune in to the requisite physicality.
McCarthy's goal finally gave them breathing space and, with a 1-16 to 0-11 lead at the interval, they looked well set to ease away into the distance.
It didn't happen though.
Indeed, had Antrim posed a greater goalscoring threat, this might easily have been a day for the Glens to set beside that storied '89 semi-final defeat of Offaly. Karl McKeegan was bottled up in a threatening position and twice Watson watched 20-metre frees cannon away for '65s.
"We needed a goal from one of them," Dinny Cahill would later surmise. They did, but the interventions of Tom Kenny and Brian Murphy saw to it that none came.
Donal Og saved smartly too from Karl Stewart after McManus had been hooked in a packed 'square', yet always there was a sense that Cork were operating off the margins of their talent.
Pointedly, they scored the last three points of the game through 'Fraggy', Cathal Naughton and substitute, Wayne Egan. It left them nine clear at the end, a respectable distance without being especially impressive.
In a sense, we left knowing almost less about Cork than we knew yesterday morning, a complaint we'll hardly be left with on Sunday week.
Kilkenny will be the truth test.
SCORERS -- Cork : B O'Connor 0-6 (0-5 frees), N McCarthy 1-2, K Murphy 0-4, P O'Sullivan and T Kenny 0-3 each, J Gardiner 0-3 (frees), C Naughton 0-2, W Egan and A O hAilpin 0-1 each.
Antrim: N McManus 0-9 (0-7 frees, 0-2 '65s), L Watson 0-6, J Campbell, M Herron, S McNaughton and K McKeegan 0-1 each.
CORK -- D Og Cusack 8; S Murphy 7, E Cadogan 6, B Murphy 7; J Gardiner 8, R Curran 7, R Ryan 7; T Kenny 8, C Naughton 8; B O'Connor 7, N McCarthy 8, M Cussen 5; P O'Sullivan 7, A O hAilpin 5, K Murphy 8. Subs: P Horgan 5 for O hAilpin (50 mins), P Cronin 6 for Cussen (55), W Egan for McCarthy (65).
ANTRIM -- C O'Connell 8; K McGourty 7, C Donnelly 8, S Delargy 7; P Shiels 6, J Campbell 7, C Herron 7; S McNaughton 7, K Stewart 7; S McCrory 7, N McManus 8, T McCann 5; PJ O'Connell 6, L Watson 9, K McKeegan 6. Subs: J McKeague 5 for Shiels (21 mins), B McFall 6 for McCann (h-t), M Herron 7 for McKeague (51), D Hamill 6 for O'Connell (55), E McCloskey for McNaughton (70).
Ref -- M Wadding (Waterford)