Cork take their time securing spoils
IT seemed as if Cork were on course for a comfortable victory after building up an eight-point lead in the first half of last Sunday's NHL clash with Offaly at Pairc Uí Rinn. But they got more than they bargained for after the interval, and it wasn't the dying minutes that they put the issue beyond doubt in what was a mediocre contest by any standards.
But they got more than they bargained for after the interval, and it wasn't the dying minutes that they put the issue beyond doubt in what was a mediocre contest by any standards.
That Cork's overall display left a lot to be desired is beyond dispute, although they did manage to finish the match in the comfort zone, with a quick brace of scores from William Egan putting them back on track.
Just three points adrift, Offaly were in with a real shout before Egan took a hand to trigger off a late flourish which, with Seamus Harnedy and Lorcan McLoughlin also on target, enabled the Rebels to stretch the gap to six points on the run-in.
It was by no means a convincing display by Jimmy Barry-Murphy's men, as they weren't expected to experience any real problems in accounting for an Offaly side that had failed to measure up in their opening two games against Laois and Wexford.
The Midlanders came with a game-plan designed with damage limitation in mind, as they had wing forward Kevin Connolly filling the role of a sweeper at the back from the outset. The tactic worked to a certain extent early on, as Cork struggled to get quality ball into the full forward line where Conor Lehane and Patrick Horgan showed they had the potential to do damage in the eighth minute.
After Rob O'Shea, a late replacement for the injured Mark Ellis at midfield, pumped a long ball into the danger zone, Lehane skilfully broke it down to Horgan, who shot wide with a golden opportunity.
Leading by 0-2 to 0-1 at the time, Cork were fortunate not to concede a goal two minutes later when Anthony Nash was deceived by a speculative delivery from Offaly midfielder Sean Ryan, but Shane O'Neill got back in time to prevent the ball from trickling over the line.
Offaly did make a major breakthrough in the 17th minute when Daniel Currams got behind the Cork cover to pick up possession, and give Nash no chance from close range. Currams' strike put Offaly 1-2 to 0-4 ahead, but Cork made light of that setback, establishing firm control in defence as Offaly repeatedly pumped aimless balls into their five-man attack.
It allowed the unattended William Egan to clear his lines with regularity, but it was the polished Shane O'Neill in the right corner who stood out in a Cork rearguard that had no obvious weak link in the first half.
Elsewhere, Lorcan McLoughlin regularly caught the eye at midfield, while Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan inflicted most of the damage up front as Cork, aided by a Horgan goal from a free in the 24th minute, eased into a 1-12 to 1-4 lead before the break.
Offaly had been denied a badly-needed boost nearing half time when Conor Mahon's effort from a close-in free was saved, but they battled gamely in the second half, with the result that Cork struggled to consolidate their advantage.
After Anthony Nash saved superbly in the 61st minute from corner forward Brian Carroll, who along with rock-solid full back Roy Hannify, Joe Bergin and substitutes Peter and Thomas Geraghty did much to keep Offaly in touch after the interval, it seemed as if the visitors' hopes of getting back into serious contention had been dashed.
A converted free by Patrick Horgan pushed Cork 1-20 to 1-13 a minute later, but gutsy Offaly then reeled of four scores on the trot before William Egan popped up with two points from distance to derail their recovery.
Egan, Shane O'Neill and Eoin Cadogan were most consistent at the back overall, while Seamus Harnedy, who bagged five points from play, earned the main plaudits in attack where Aidan Walsh performed much more promisingly than in his debut game with the hurlers against Limerick.
Cork: P Horgan 1-8, 1-4 frees, S Harnedy 0-5, D Kearney, A Walsh, W Egan and L McLoughlin 0-2 each, C Lehane, R O'Shea and B Lawton 0-1 each
Offaly: B Carroll 0-6, 0-3 frees, J Bergin 0-6, 0-4 frees, D Currams 1-1, T Geraghty and P Geraghty 0-2 each, S Quirke 0-1
Cork: A Nash (Kanturk), S O'Neill (Bishopstown), S McDonnell (Glen Rovers), K Murphy (Erins Own), E Cadogan (Douglas), E Keane (St Finbarr's), W Egsn (Kilbrin), R O'Shea (Carrigaline), L McLoughlin (Kanturk), D Kearney (Sarsfields), S Harnedy (St Ita's), A Walsh (Kanturk), P Horgan (Glen Rovers), C Lehane (Midleton), S Moylan (Douglas). Subs, B Hartnett (Midleton) for Moylan (43), B Lawton (Castlemartyr) for Lehane (50), C Joyce (Na Piarsaigh) for Murphy (60), M Cahalane (Bandon) for Kearney (65), C McCarthy (Sarsfields) for Walsh (68)
Offaly: J Dempsey, N Wynne, R Hannify, J Rigney, C Parlon, G Healion, D Mooney, D Kilmartin, S Ryan, K Connolly, J Bergin, C Mahon, B Carroll, D Currams, S Dooley. Subs, C McDonald for Healion, P Geraghty for Ryan, T Geraghty for Mooney, S Quirke for Dooley, C Egan for Kilmartin (injured)
Referee: A Kelly (Galway)