CORK'S National Football League crown is tottering precariously following their defeat by Kildare at Pairc Uí Rinn last Saturday night.
Preceded by a loss to Dublin at Croke Park, it means they are pointless after two outings, and, with three of their remaining five games in Division 1 away from home, they are going to have their work cut out to reach the league semi-finals.
The result against the Lilywhites was particularly disappointing in that Cork looked capable of coming out on top until they were reduced to 14 players early in the second half.
It was wing-back Damien Cahalane, who received his marching orders following a mindless indiscretion in the 40th minute, and there is no denying it had a vital bearing on the outcome. Cork were leading by 1-6 to 0-7 at the time, and, in fairness, they continued to hold a slight edge before Kildare's numerical advantage took its toll in the closing stages.
After impressive centre forward John O'Rourke pointed, following good work by effective substitute Tom Clancy of Fermoy and Aidan Walsh, to make it 1-9 to 0-9 in the 58th minute, Cork failed to score again, whereas Kildare hit two goals, courtesy of substitutes Niall Kelly and Paddy Brophy, in the last ten minutes to secure the laurels.
Having claimed the scalp of All-Ireland champions Donegal in Round 1, Kildare travelled to Leeside with a spring in their step, and it was obvious in the early stages they were going to be a tough nut to crack.
They led by 0-3 to 0-1 after 15 minutes, with two of their points coming from Seanie Johnson, who opened very brightly at full forward against Michael Shields. Shields gradually got the measure of the former Cavan star, and, with Eoin Cadogan keeping a tight rein on Kildare's prolific marksman John Doyle, Cork established firm control in the full-back line where newcomer Eoin O'Mahony also kept his end up well before the break.
With Kildare defending in numbers, Cork, despite enjoying the lion's share of possession, found openings difficult to come by in the first half, but they made a big breakthrough in the 19th. minute when Fintan Goold and Paul Kerrigan combined to create the opening for a well-taken goal by Ciaran Sheehan. It gave Cork a 1-3 to 0-3 lead, and they remained in front until half time, with a spectacular point from Kerrigan late on allowing them to turn over 1-5 to 0-6 to the good.
Although Kildare's Cathal McNally had spurned a gilt-edged opportunity shortly before that, Cork weren't flattered by their interval advantage which owed much to the strong play from Cahalane at wing back and Graham Canty (below) at midfield. For the second half, Canty was surprisingly switched to centre-back where he came under pressure from lively Kildare substitute Niall Kelly, who certainly gave the visitors' attack a bit more impetus.
Still, Cork continued to shape up like winners in the third quarter when Aidan Walsh made his presence felt at midfield, and their defence continued to resist stoutly as a unit. Walsh and Donncha O'Connor, who was generally well-contained by Kildare full back Michael Foley, chipped in with a couple of inspirational points as Cork stretched the gap to 1-7 to 0-7 within eight minutes of the resumption.
Those scores came at either side of Cahalane's dismissal, but Kildare gradually began to gain a foothold on the game, with midfielder Padraig O'Neill and wing back Mikey Conway constantly to the fore as they pressed hard for scores. It seemed as if Cork might have weathered the storm, however, after Donncha O'Connor converted a free, won by Fintan Goold, and John O'Rourke quickly tacked on another point to give them a bit of a cushion entering the home stretch.
But Kildare's mounting pressure eventually yielded the desired result, with the ubiquitous Padraig O'Neill pulling a point back before Tomás O'Connor did the spadework for Niall Kelly's goal which nudged them ahead by the minimum inside the last ten minutes.
Cork barely had time to absorb that setback before Kildare's second goal arrived, with Tomas O'Connor, who, introduced for the second half, clearly posed problems for Eoin O'Mahony in the closing stages, again playing a leading role in the build-up.
After slipping O'Mahony out near the touchline, O'Connor advanced to lay the ball off to Padraig O'Neill, who presented Paddy Brophy with an opportunity that he simply couldn't miss. Brophy's strike removed any lingering doubts about the outcome, and Kildare, using the extra-man to good effect, saw the game out in the comfort zone.
Kildare M Conway 0-4, 0-2 frees, N Kelly and P Brophy 1-0 each, S Johnson and P O'Neill 0-2 each, J Doyle, free and D Flynn 0-1 each
Cork: C Sheehan 1-0, C O'Neill 0-3, 0-2 frees, D O'Connor 0-3, 0-2 frees, P Kerrigan, A Walsh and J O'Rourke 0-1 each
Kildare: S Connolly, E Bolton, M Foley, P Kelly, H McGrillen, O Lyons, M Conway, G White, P O'Neill, D Flynn, C McNally, B Flanagan, E O'Flaherty, S Johnson, J Doyle Subs: N Kelly for McNally, T O'Connor for O'Flaherty, E Doyle for Lyons, M O'Flaherty for Flanagan, P Brophy for Johnson
Cork: K O'Halloran (Bishopstown), E Cadogan (Douglas), M Shields (St Finbarr's), E O'Mahony (Macroom), D Cahalane (Castlehaven), T Clancy (Clonakilty), J O'Sullivan (Bishopstown), G Canty (Bantry Blues), A Walsh (Kanturk), F Goold (Macroom), J O'Rourke (Carbery Rangers), P Kerrigan (Nemo Rangers), C O'Neill (Ballyclough), D O'Connor (Ballydesmond), C Sheehan (Eire Og) Subs: A O'Connor (St Colum's) for Clancy, T Clancy (Fermoy) for Sheehan, P O'Neill (Aghada) for Goold, P Kissane (Clyda Rovers) for Walsh
Referee: R Hickey (Clare)