Sunday 24 September 2017

Relieved Counihan praises Rebels' grit

Cork 1-17 Galway 1-16

Cork players attempt to stop the late Michael Meehan free-kick which ended up in the net
Cork players attempt to stop the late Michael Meehan free-kick which ended up in the net
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

AS Conor Counihan reached into a media scrum to shake Alan Mulholland's hand, the Galway manager smiled.

All Ireland SFC qualifier

"Are ya coming racing, are ya?" he asked casually.

"I won't but I'll give you a ring because you might have one good one for me!" Counihan quipped before turning away towards the Cork team bus.

There, in a simple cameo, was what makes the GAA so distinctive.

Mulholland is a bookmaker, with the Galway Races coming up fast on the rails. Counihan has a traditional east Cork gra for the horses and, though they had just pitted their teams and brains in close combat for more than an hour, that was no impediment to their kinship.

Prevailed

The Rebels prevailed to reach their ninth consecutive All-Ireland quarter-final but only after a nerve-wracking comeback.

The draw would later pit them against Dublin on Saturday, and we can only guess at Counihan's response.

His reaction to edging out Galway in such a thrilling climax was huge relief and he should have been particularly thankful that full-back Michael Shields was allowed to waltz up the field in the 72nd minute and grab a great individual score that put Cork four points clear.

The next play resulted in Michael Meehan being hauled down on the edge of the Cork square.

Some felt it warranted a penalty rather than a 20-metre free but it mattered not a whit to the maroon menace. A wall of eight Cork jerseys went up in the goalmouth, yet somehow he blasted to the net right over their heads.

But that magnificent strike was the last of the game, leaving only Shields' point separating the sides and both managers feeling pride and frustration in equal measure.

Galway were supposedly a beaten docket after Mayo vaporised them in Connacht but, after their first back-door odyssey in nine years, they did not disappoint on their first appearance at Croker in five years.

With Meehan reprising his form at HQ in 2008, they were a point up at half-time (0-8 to 0-7) and five points clear 10 minutes later, let their lead dwindle to the minimum and then kicked on again to go three clear with less than 10 minutes left; all this despite losing corner-forward Danny Cummins to an early injury when he looked set to test Shields to his limits.

A more experienced team would have pulled the door out behind them, but all the grizzled veterans wore red.

Cork scored an unanswered 1-4 in the next nine minutes – Aidan Walsh pouncing for the goal – to pull it out of the fire.

Were it not for the brilliance of Galway's goalkeeper Manus Breathnach, who foiled many of Cork's half-dozen goal chances, they could have wrested control earlier.

A Rebel yell was always expected and the source was not surprising.

Counihan, who had made six changes from the Munster final, usually names a 'dummy' team but there were no pre-match changes this time.

Once again it took until the second half before Cork found their rhythm, and the impetus came from several of those dropped after Killarney.

As a dejected Mulholland reflected: "When you have a group of All Stars to take off the bench like Paddy Kelly, Donncha O'Connor and Paul Kerrigan, it helps.

"Their goal came at a good time for them, straight after an attack when we were looking to go four up. They came down, hit the post, got the rebound and put it back in the net to bring it back level.

"Goals were the one thing we had hoped to rule out. We let in four against Mayo and hadn't let in one since and definitely that was high on our priority list. We matched them on points and were frustrating them until they got that goal."

His side, led by Paul Conroy, Conor Doherty, Gary O'Donnell and the twin threat of Sean Armstrong and Meehan, certainly restored their reputation with a fluid running game.

"Since the Mayo game, perversely, there's a unity come into the group that hadn't been there," Mulholland revealed.

"We felt 17 points wasn't a fair reflection of our ability against Mayo, we knuckled down, trained a lot harder, and if we'd gone further, we'd have been saying that Mayo (experience) was the making of this team."

Cork only really clicked for the final 15 minutes. Mark Collins worked tirelessly as their sweeper but Kelly's fitness issues leaves them bereft of a playmaker.

Pearse O'Neill, Walsh, Daniel Goulding and substitutes Kerrigan and Kelly finally got them out of their slump, but a display this incoherent would surely be fatal against Dublin.

Chances

Cork won the first-half kick-outs 15-8 yet were still behind at the break. They didn't score from play for 43 minutes and, despite creating myriad goal chances, should often have taken the easier option.

Counihan reckoned the fact that it was "so tight and pushed us to the limit," was ideal preparation.

"We obviously need to improve big-time in terms of next week but if we're in a position to convert those goals next week, who knows where we'll be?" he said.

"These fellas have been on the road a long time and they just don't give up. That's something that's hard to buy and it's really what you want in a typical championship battle."

And, shock horror, you actually started the team you named?

"It's guys coming off the bench that are going to give it that extra bit. If you don't have that you're not going to win in the championship," he said with one of his hang-dog grins.

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

Cork - A Quirke 7; E Cadogan 6, M Shields 6, T Clancy 7; D Cahalane 7, G Canty (Capt) 5, J Loughrey 5; A O'Connor 6, P O'Neill 8; J O'Rourke 6, A Walsh 8, M Collins 7; D Goulding 7, C Sheehan 7, B Hurley 6. Subs: P Kerrigan 7 for O'Rourke (44), P Kissane 6 for Loughrey (47), D O'Connor 6 for Hurley (53), P Kelly 7 for A O'Connor (58), J O'Sullivan 6 for Clancy (60).

Galway – M Breathnach 9; D O'Neill 7, F Hanley (Capt) 7, J Duane 6; S Denvir 7, G O'Donnell 8, G Sice 8; P Conroy 8, T Flynn 7; J O'Brien 6, S Armstrong 8, C Doherty 7; M Martin 7, M Meehan 8, D Cummins 8. Subs: S Walsh 6 for Cummins (inj, 23), M Farragher 5 for O'Brien (53), F O Curraoin 5 for Flynn (54), A Varley 5 for Martin (58).

Ref – D Gough (Meath)

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