Cork show true grit to overhaul Dublin
Rebels resurgent as second-half blitz prolongs capital's title famine
Cork 0-21 Dublin 2-14
ALLIANZ NFL DIVISION 1 FINAL
THIS Cork squad is taking shape as one seriously powerful force.
One All-Ireland and two Allianz League (Division 1) titles in the space of 12 months has taken them into territory not visited for 74 years as they emulated Mayo by winning successive spring competitions, separated by the major September prize.
It tees them up perfectly for a shot at the double-double later this year and, on the evidence of their success over Dublin at Croke Park yesterday, they are primed to perfection for the big challenge.
Beating a team that had been the most consistent in the divisional games was always going to demand a better performance than anything Cork had given so far. But it actually took a whole lot more than that after they were pushed into the deepest of holes by Dublin's energy and industry.
The world must have looked a dark, lonely place for Cork when Diarmuid Connolly confidently looped over a point in the 40th minute to take Dublin eight points clear and seemingly on their way to a first National League title since 1993.
They had finished the first half with four unanswered points and then added 1-2 in the opening five minutes of the second period in an enterprising burst that was reminiscent of the many fine periods they had put together in their previous seven games.
Cork, who started without Nicholas Murphy, had lost Fintan Goold and John Miskella to injury in the first half and with Aidan Walsh and Eoin Cadogan also absent, it put a sizeable strain on their resources. Ominously, the response was one of relentless defiance which created a whole new momentum.
They outscored Dublin 0-11 to 0-2 in the final half hour, with the winning point coming from the enterprising Ciaran Sheehan in the 67th minute. Dublin's only scores in that period came from their two best forwards, Kevin McManamon (56th minute) and Bernard Brogan (48th-minute free).
Brogan was forced out with a hamstring pull in the 50th minute, a loss which was to prove crucial for Dublin. McManamon, who scored five points from open play in what was probably his best performance on the inter-county scene, plugged on but support levels were erratic as the Cork defence asserted itself.
Nonetheless, Dublin had a few glorious chances to notch priceless points in the closing minutes but 'Mossy' Quinn miscued two scoreable frees (one was a real howler) while Barry Cahill also missed the target.
In contrast, Cork were neat and methodical as they chiselled into Dublin's lead. They didn't test Stephen Cluxton once with a goal-bound effort, remaining content to pick off points after skilfully crafted moves.
The intelligent probing of the outstanding Patrick Kelly, the powerful running of Pearse O'Neill, the confident shooting of Sheehan and the growing influence of Donncha O'Connor all combined to worry the Dublin defence into repeating some of the mistakes which undermined them against Cork in last year's All-Ireland semi-final.
Noel O'Leary, Michael Shields, freed of the demanding Brogan-watch role, Jamie O'Sullivan and sub Denis O'Sullivan also contributed handsomely to Cork's ultra-effective rally.
So too did another substitute, Murphy, who came on five minutes from the end and marked his arrival by making an excellent catch. Such calmness under pressure was one of the essential differences between the teams. Cork, who have survived close calls before, trusted themselves to do the right thing. On the other hand, once the flow went against Dublin they became edgy and insecure.
Passes went astray, players weren't showing for the ball to the same degree as earlier, while their decision-making carried a high error rate. Just as they had done against Dublin and Down in last year's All-Ireland semi-final and final, Cork exploited their opponents' unease and were rewarded with a string of points which eventually took them over the winning line.
Cork will regard it as a victory for confidence and experience, whereas Dublin were left facing the ghosts of past failures which were caused by poor finishes. Losing the final 30 minutes of a game 0-11 to 0-2 is a serious issue, bringing into question the defensive alignment.
The attack maintained their two-goals-per-game return and decorated it with 14 points which would usually be enough to win a game. Indeed, Dublin came mighty close to scoring a third goal in the ninth minute but Quinn's shot was expertly saved by Cork goalkeeper Ken O'Halloran.
Quinn had enjoyed better luck two minutes earlier when he whipped in Dublin's first goal after being put through by Brogan. Dublin led 1-4 to 0-3 after 15 minutes before Cork hit four points to draw level. Kelly put Cork a point clear in the 26th minute but Dublin dominated the closing stages of the half, kicking four points to lead by 1-10 to 0-10 at the interval.
And when they started the second half so decisively, it really did look as if their title famine was about to end but Cork never panicked and instead treated Dublin's eight-point lead as a challenge which just had to be met.
They took it on intelligently, forcing their opponents deeper into defence and while Dublin had their break-out chances, the composure which underpinned their efforts for the first 40 minutes was conspicuously absent.
That has to be a worry for Pat Gilroy as he looks ahead to the championship. Granted, they won't be meeting sides of Cork's calibre every day but Dublin are thinking in All-Ireland terms nowadays so the lessons learned yesterday will have to be studied in minute detail.
They continue to amass big returns but remain unconvincing in defence. Not that Conor Counihan will be satisfied with his defence either. They conceded 2-12 in the first 40 minutes -- indeed it could have been more -- and while they tightened up after Brogan's departure, it's an area which will come in for scrutiny in the coming weeks.
For now, they are happy to sign off on the spring campaign with another title and, equally importantly, clear evidence that their resolve remains just as solid as at any time last year.
Man of the Match: Patrick Kelly (Cork)
Scorers -- Cork: D Goulding (2f), C Sheehan 0-4 each, P O'Neill, P Kelly, D O'Connor (1f) 0-3 each, J O'Sullivan, F Goold, N O'Leary, F Lynch 0-1 each. Dublin: B Brogan 1-3 (0-1f), K McManamon 0-5, T Quinn 1-2, D Connolly 0-2, B Cahill, K Nolan 0-1 each.
Cork: K O'Halloran 8; J O'Sullivan 7, R Carey 6, M Shields 7; N O'Leary 8, J Miskella 6, P Kissane 7; A O'Connor 6, P O'Neill 8; C Sheehan 8, P Kelly 9, F Goold 7; D Goulding 7, D O'Connor 7, P Kerrigan 5. Subs: F Lynch 6 for Goold (26), D O'Sullivan 7 for Miskella (28), D Goold 6 for Kerrigan (35), N Murphy 7 for A O'Connor (65).
Dublin: S Cluxton 7; M Fitzsimons 6, B Brogan 7, P McMahon 6; B Cahill 7, G Brennan 6, K Nolan 7; D Bastick 6, MD Macauley 7; B Cullen 7, K McManamon 8, P Flynn 6; B Brogan 8, D Connolly 7, T Quinn 7. Subs: D Daly 5 for Cullen (47), P Burke 6 for B Brogan (50), D Kelly 5 for Connolly (54), P Andrews 7 for Daly (62), D Lally for Cahill (72)
Ref -- J McQuillan (Cavan)