Sunday 22 October 2017

Rebels rally to overpower spirited Galway resistance

CORK 1-17 GALWAY 1-16

Aidan Walsh in action for the footballers last year
Aidan Walsh in action for the footballers last year

John O'Brien

IF the complexities of blanket defences and two-man full-forward lines aren't your thing, then the middle course of yesterday's feast at Croke Park might have tickled your palate. This was a game as absent of cynicism as you are likely to find. No massed defences. There was time for players to think and space to breathe. In the end, Cork found just enough of both to hold sway and sneak into the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Galway were a most pleasant surprise, though. From the low of a 17-point hammering against Mayo all the way back in May, there was something of a redemptive feel about how they pushed Cork to the brink of defeat. With five minutes left they held a three-point lead and looked as if they had withstood the best Conor Counihan's side could throw at them. In the end, fatigue as much as anything claimed them and there was no shame in it.

Cork don't have many secrets. In making six changes from the side that lost to Kerry, Counihan ensured, among other things, that he had a subs' bench dripping with talent and the ability to call on the likes of Paul Kerrigan, Paddy Kelly and Donncha O'Connor was a decisive factor. None managed to score but their energy and vitality late on was crucial. It wasn't the performance of prospective All-Ireland champions but, right now, they'll just be happy to be alive.

Such a grim struggle wasn't signposted early on. When Aidan Walsh, well-positioned at centre-forward, went galloping through the heart of Galway's defence after three minutes, memories of that meek capitulation in Connacht came flooding back. Walsh's shot crashed off the crossbar and Cork had to settle for the consolation of a Pearse O'Neill point. Galway's goal leading a charmed existence became one of the recurring motifs of the game.

Galway quickly showed they would be competitive, though. By the 10th minute, points from Sean Armstrong and Michael Meehan had them level and the prospect of their two deadliest forwards being on song gave their supporters voice and hope. Walsh soon had Cork in front again, however, and Damien Cahalane doubled their lead after a mix-up between Finian Hanley and his goalkeeper gifted them a '45'.

It was promising for Galway that a visibly porous defence didn't thieve their confidence elsewhere. Two points from Meehan sandwiched a splendid 40m drive from Paul Conroy and, 20 minutes in, they had their noses in front. Cork soon exposed their defensive weakness again, O'Neill bearing down on goal, but although he struck his shot with venom, Manus Breathnach was equal to it, diving to his left to tip it behind for a '45'.

There was nothing for Galway to do, then, but live on their wits a little bit. They reached half-time clinging on to their one-point lead, knowing Cork had their big guns to play from the bench and would surely increase the intensity for the second-half. Daniel Goulding soon had the sides level from a '45' and though Armstrong struck back quickly at the other end, worryingly for Galway Cork immediately had another sniff at Breathnach's goal.

This time the chance fell to Mark Collins and, again, Breathnach was defiant, smothering the shot from near point-blank range. The goalkeeper's resistance proved inspirational. Conroy then struck another beauty from long-range. Meehan added a free and Conor Doherty opened his account soon after. With 42 minutes gone, Galway had opened up a tidy four-point gap.

Cork were in trouble. Ciaran Sheehan was narrowly wide with a flick from the outside of his boot and Michael Martin compounded their woe with a monster point from the right-hand touchline moments later and Galway led by five.

However, points by Goulding (two), Brian Hurley, Collins and Sheehan, sandwiching a Gary Sice point for Galway, narrowed the gap to one before Meehan and Armstrong chased it back to three.

With five minutes left, though, Galway cracked. O'Neill was the fulcrum again, his low shot rifling off the butt of the post. When the ball came back in, though, Walsh was at hand to fist it to an unguarded net. O'Neill kicked them in front soon after and, finally, Cork were in command. When Meehan stepped up to blast a 21-yard free to the net, it was already clear Galway would come up short. No shame in it. Cork's experience just proved too much.

Scorers – Cork: D Goulding 0-5 (3f, '45'), A Walsh 1-1, B Hurley (2f), P O'Neill, C Sheehan 0-2 each, M Shields, D Cahalane ('45'), M Collins, J O'Rourke, J Loughrey 0-1 each. Galway: M Meehan 1-6 (1-3f), S Armstong 0-4 (1f), P Conroy 0-2, G Sice, C Doherty, M Martin, D Cummins 0-1 each.

Cork: A Quirke; E Cadogan, M Shields, T Clancy; D Cahalane, G Canty, J Loughrey; A O'Connor, P O'Neill; M Collins, A Walsh, J O'Rourke; D Goulding, C Sheehan, B Hurley. Subs: P Kerrigan for O'Rourke (43), P Kissane for Loughrey (46), D O'Connor for Hurley (52), P Kelly for A O'Connor (57), J O'Sullivan for Clancy (59)

Galway: M Breathnach; D O'Neill, F Hanley, J Duane; S Denvir, G O'Donnell, G Sice; P Conroy, T Flynn; C Doherty, S Amrstrong, M Meehan; M Martin, J O'Brien, D Cummins. Subs: S Walsh for Cummins (22), M Farragher for O'Brien (52), F O Curraoin for Flynn (53), A Varley for S Walsh (59).

Referee: D Gough (Meath)

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