O'Connor hits mark to punish Dublin's lack of discipline
THE scale of the disappointment will only become fully apparent to Dublin when they review the video.
It will show in the starkest terms imaginable that they played sensibly, constructively and coherently for 66 minutes of yesterday's All-Ireland football semi-final, only to ruin it all by allowing their defensive discipline to disintegrate in the closing minutes.
Whether it was tiredness or inexperience -- or perhaps a combination of both -- that infected them, it had a devastating impact, allowing Cork back into a game which seemed to have drifted beyond their reach when Conal Keaney pointed a 66th-minute free to put his side two points (1-13 to 1-11) ahead.
They then conceded three frees in two minutes in the red zone near their own goal and Donncha O'Connor pointed all three before Derek Kavanagh opened a two-point lead two minutes into stoppage-time.
Ross McConnell was sent off on a second yellow card in the 69th minute for a foul which yielded a Cork point and, although Bernard Brogan pared one back, time ran out on Dublin as a joyous Cork celebrated victory in a game where they rarely played with the anticipated fluency.
A total of 1-8 of Cork's scores came from placed balls, which was only a point more than Brogan's individual haul. He was the day's class act and, while he shot two wides late on, he can still be absolved from all blame for Dublin's defeat. His brother Alan kicked two points but the remainder of the starting attack scored just one point between them, with the rest coming from defender Philip McMahon, midfielder Michael Darragh
Macauley and sub Keaney.
While Dublin were over-reliant on Bernard Brogan for scores, it still looked for most of the way as if the rest of their game was going sufficiently well to close out Cork. Boosted by a goal after just 65 seconds when Brogan drifted in behind Ray Carey, fielded a through ball by Niall Corkery and angled it carefully past Alan Quirke, Dublin dominated the agenda until the closing minutes when the game suddenly veered in Cork's direction.
Dublin led by five points on no fewer than five occasions including around the 50th minute, which they reached with a 1-10 to 0-8 advantage. At that stage, there were no signs that Cork were coming anywhere close to winding themselves up for a massive effort.
Their ball retention was poor, their passing sloppy, their kicking inaccurate and, with Dublin's confidence rising all the time, their opponents seemed set to enjoy their best day in Croke Park since 1995. Even when Cork cut the margin to a point when O'Connor steered a penalty to the net in the 53rd minute, after substitute Colm O'Neill had been
needlessly fouled by McConnell, Dublin's response was calm and effective.
Cork supporters in the capacity crowd would have expected their more experienced outfit to kick on after the goal but Dublin reacted as if destiny had promised them a rich reward for the successful reconstruction programme undertaken since the destruction of their Leinster title ambitions in late June.
Bernard Brogan and Bryan Cullen kicked two points to put them three clear at the hour mark. It looked a substantial lead but, in fairness to Cork, they had the heart and determination to work their way back into contention. They outscored Dublin by 0-6 to 0-2 from there to the finish to book a place in the final for the third time in four seasons.
It's difficult to pinpoint why the pattern changed in the closing minutes but one possible explanation is that Dublin's high-energy game left them drained and resulted in careless frees being conceded. They were nowhere nearly as disciplined as they had been earlier on and, with O'Connor and Daniel Goulding primed for damage with frees, Cork were able to fully exploit the opportunities.
Also, Cork's experience at this level -- they have contested the semi-final every year since 2005 -- enabled them to remain calm even when things weren't going their way, which admittedly was for much of the game. It was as if they believed that Dublin's storm would finally blow itself out, allowing them to move in calmly and reap the harvest.
In the end, that's exactly what happened but not before Dublin had put themselves in a position to win the game. The perfect start settled them into a powerful rhythm, forcing Cork very much on the defensive. With Bernard Brogan a constant threat, Eoghan O'Gara showing well for the ball at full-forward and David Henry playing intelligently in his roving role, Dublin bossed much of the first-half exchanges.
Aidan Walsh won some good ball for Cork at midfield but the attack found it very difficult to escape their tenacious markers. Cork kicked eight wides in the first half and, while that looked extremely wasteful, credit must go to the Dublin defenders, who applied so much pressure on the kickers.
Dublin led by 1-8 to 0-7 at the interval, having survived a scare in stoppage-time when Paul Kerrigan's kick for a point thudded off the woodwork when it might just have easily dropped into the net. Cork missed several chances in the opening minutes of the second half and when McConnell scored a Dublin point after 42 minutes, it seemed as if it might be a defining moment.
It reopened a five-point advantage for Dublin which, when coupled with Cork's failure to start the half in the positive manner they would have liked, suggested the afternoon would indeed have a blue hue. That still looked the case right up to the closing minutes when Cork finally asserted themselves in a manner commensurate with their favourites' rating.
Dublin would have felt that, at the very least, they deserved a draw, a case strengthened by doubts over's Cork's 11th point scored by Paddy Kelly in the 62nd minute off a quick free by Goulding. The umpire quickly signalled a point but video reruns left some doubt as to whether the ball had in fact gone over.
It was a critical call that went Cork's way on a day when they won without coming anywhere near their best. It's the ideal way to reach an All-Ireland final, provided of course that they are reserving the optimum effort for the big day.
As for Dublin, they have made considerable progress over the past eight weeks but they still have to live with disappointment of losing a fourth All-Ireland semi-final since 2002, three by a single point, the other by two points. Truly, the gods aren't smiling on the Dubs in this era.
Scorers -- Cork: D O'Connor 1-5 (0-4f, 1-0 pen), D Goulding 0-4 (0-3f), P Kelly 0-2, A Walsh, P Kerrigan, C O'Neill, D Kavanagh 0-1 each. Dublin: B Brogan 1-7 (0-1f), A Brogan 0-2, P McMahon, MD Macauley, R McConnell, C Keaney (0-1f) B Cullen 0-1 each.
Cork -- A Quirke 7; R Carey 5, M Shields 7, J Miskella 6; N O'Leary 7, G Canty 6, P Kissane 7; A O'Connor 5, A Walsh 8; C Sheehan 6, P O'Neill 7, P Kelly 7; D Goulding 7, D O'Connor 7, P Kerrigan 7. Subs: E Cadogan 7 for Canty (h-t), N Murphy 7 for A O'Connor (43), C O'Neill 8 for Sheehan (52), D Kavanagh 7 for Miskella (61), F Goold for O'Leary (71).
Dublin -- S Cluxton 7; M Fitzsimons 7, R O'Carroll 7, P McMahon 7; K Nolan 6, G Brennan 7, C O'Sullivan 5; MD Macauley 7, R McConnell 6; B Cullen 6, A Brogan 7, N Corkery 6; D Henry 7, E O'Gara 6, B Brogan 9. Subs: B Cahill 6 for O'Sullivan (33), P Flynn 5 for Henry (46), E Fennell 5 for Corkery (57), C Keaney 6 for O'Gara (63), D Bastick for O'Carroll (68).
Ref -- M Deegan (Laois).