Gavin plays down McCaffrey loss after Dubs edge 'resilient' Rebels
Dublin 2-14 Cork 2-10
Jim Gavin confirmed the departure of another All-Star defender but his reigning League and All-Ireland champions once again overcame the odds to display their thirst for silverware.
It was far from vintage - Dublin didn't get off the mark until the 22nd minute and trailed by seven at the break - but a strong second-half surge saw off some gutsy Cork resistance.
Cormac Costello didn't get a sniff in the opening 35 minutes but his patience exemplified his side's ability to remain calm under pressure and he stepped forward to nonchalantly fire over eight frees as the ultra-defensive Rebels eventually wilted.
A wave of Dublin attacks, led by James McCarthy and Diarmuid Connolly, provided Costello with the perfect platform to showcase his talent and his accuracy from placed balls proved the difference, something which will delight Gavin.
Gavin will need relatively new faces like Costello and impressive substitute Shane Carthy to help shoulder the burden of high-profile casualties like Rory O'Carroll and Footballer of the Year McCaffrey, who Gavin said will miss the rest of 2016 due to college commitments.
"Jack has a desire to do some volunteer work in a hospital in Africa over the summer," he said. "We've known about this for some time and we were giving him space to reflect on it and to consult those people that are close to him.
"With a player of his quality you'd definitely like to be looking at him rather than for him. We'd like to have Jack around this season but we fully understand and empathise with his decision and we fully support him.
"He won't be playing with us for the National League or Championship this year and my concentration and focus is on the players who I have and who have engaged with our plan for 2016."
Gavin doesn't expect key losses to stunt Dublin's bid for success and spoke of "one door closing on one player's time with us while it opens for somebody else". But the Dubs certainly started like a side shellshocked by the news.
Peadar Healy's Cork, stung by a humiliating defeat to Roscommon on home soil just six days previously, started like a house on fire and smothered Dublin's attacking forays. They powered into a 1-4 to no score lead, with Colm O'Neill hitting 1-3, including a penalty after Peter Kelleher's jersey was pulled back by Philly McMahon.
Despite struggling for match fitness O'Neill was a real livewire in his 44 minutes on the pitch, and had he played the 70 minutes, Cork might have got something from the game, except restored pride.
Dublin's first score was a telling one, with Connolly providing the overlap for Bernard Brogan and firing low to the net. Kelleher, who caused trouble under high ball at the edge of the square, responded swiftly when palming past Michael Savage after great work from Paul Kerrigan to stretch the Rebel lead to 2-7 to 1-3 lead at half-time.
The 20,280 in attendance at Croke Park expected a Dublin backlash and they weren't disappointed. In a complete contrast to the first half, the Rebels went 28 minutes without a score as Costello's unerring accuracy turned the game around.
Dublin led 1-12 to 2-7 after Cork spurned some good scoring chances, including a fisted Kelleher effort from a high delivery which unluckily hit the butt of the post, and Healy rued their missed opportunities.
"I'm disappointed because there was an opportunity there to win," he said. "We had three chances at the start of the second half and they were vital. Also we gave away the discipline at the back and they just wore us down. They were patient while we tended to rush things."
Buoyed by Johnny Cooper's 59th-minute sending off, Cork showed remarkable resilience to buck the scoring trend and level through Brian Hurley and sub Ruairi Deane.
But the cavalry had arrived and the Dubs responded in clinical fashion with sub Kevin McManamon winning two frees, which Costello converted, and McCarthy putting the icing on the cake with a brilliant solo goal.
Gavin admitted that four-point margin flattered the Boys in Blue as they overcame a "non-traditional Cork game",saying: "We're meeting it now on a weekly basis and it's a good challenge for us and the guys are really enjoying it. Cork put a big effort in, and had they got a couple of scores in the second half it could've been a different result."
For Cork it was the performance, if not the result, they needed.
"There was a lot of soul-searching but they're a resilient bunch," Healy said. "We asked the players for a performance, they gave it to us. We didn't get the two points and we're disappointed but there are three Championship matches ahead to stay in Division 1."
SCORERS - Dublin - C Costello 0-9 (8f), D Connolly 1-3 (1f, 1 '45), J McCarthy 1-0, P Andrews 0-2. Cork - Colm O'Neill 1-3 (2f, 1-0 pen), P Kelleher 1-0, B Hurley 0-2 (1f), P Kerrigan 0-1, L Connolly 0-1 (f), C O'Driscoll 0-1, M Collins, R Deane 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: M Savage 6; J Cooper 6, P McMahon 7, D Byrne 7, J McCarthy 9, C O'Sullivan 7, E Lowndes 5; B Fenton 5, E Ó Conghaile 6; P Flynn 6, D Connolly 7, C Kilkenny 6; C Costello 8, P Andrews 7, B Brogan 6. Subs: J Small 6 for E Lowndes and M Fitzsimons 7 for B Fenton (ht), S Carthy 7 for E Ó Conghaile (48), D Rock 6 for B Brogan (49), K McManamon 8 for P Andrews (65), Shane B Carthy 6 for P Flynn (71).
CORK: MA Martin 7; J O'Sullivan 7, E Cadogan 8, K Crowley 7; T Clancy 7, B O'Driscoll 7, K O'Driscoll 6; S Kiely 6, I Maguire 6; M Collins 7, L Connolly 6, B O'Driscoll 6; C O'Neill 8, P Kelleher 7, P Kerrigan 7. Subs: B Hurley for P Kerrigan (BS 31), P Kerrigan for B Hurley (BS 35). D Goulding 5 for C O'Neill (44), K O'Hanlon 6 for S Kiely (50), B Hurley 7 for K O'Driscoll (54), R Deane 7 for L Connolly (57), Andrew O'Sullivan 6 for P Kelleher (67), M Collins 6 (O'Donovan Rossa) for P Kerrigan (70).
REF - P Neilan (Roscommon)