Monday 19 August 2019

Rebels feel full force of Dublin

All-Ireland SFC Quarter-final Group Phase 1: Dublin 5-18 Cork 1-17

Cork’s Ian Maguire is tackled by Paul Mannion, left, and Ciarán Kilkenny of Dublin during the All-Ireland SFC Quarter-final Group 2 Phase 1 match at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Sportsfile
Cork’s Ian Maguire is tackled by Paul Mannion, left, and Ciarán Kilkenny of Dublin during the All-Ireland SFC Quarter-final Group 2 Phase 1 match at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Sportsfile

Paul Brennan, Croke Park, Dublin

For the first ten minutes of their first taste of the All-Ireland Super 8s, Cork looked to the manor born.

When Paul Kerrigan kicked his second in the tenth minute, Cork led the All-Ireland champions 0-5 to 0-1, and not for a moment did the Rebels look a bit out of place in Croke Park, at this level of championship football.

When Dean Rock - Dublin's dead ball kicker - was sent into the action in the 45th minute his team were leading by two points, 2-10 to 1-11, and when he converted his second free in the 59th minute Cork were still just four points behind and making live damn uncomfortable for the five-in-a-row seeking Dubs.

Hard to fathom, then, how Ronan McCarthy's team ended up on the sore end of a 13-point defeat, but, also, not hard to fathom at all. It's what Dublin do to all but the very best teams. Cork were good on Saturday evening in front of 30,214 spectators - the vast majority of them dressed in blue - but they're not in that company yet.

Cork played exceptionally well for much of this contest but the modern game extends to about 75 minutes these days; Cork got through 60 of those matching Dublin in almost every facet of the game but then they ran out of gas and ideas. And that's when Dublin kill you.

In the 63rd minute - when Cork were still entitled to be feeling good about themselves - Jack McCaffrey (more about him anon) scorched he earth beneath his feet for the umpteenth time before finding Con O'Callaghan who in turn supplied Niall Scully who lashed the ball past Mark White to make it 3-15 to 1-14.

Michael Hurley and Paul Mannion exchanged points but if Cork were going to pull off the shock result of the decade they had to shoot Dublin in both feet. Instead they shot themselves in their own. White played the Russian roulette game of the short re-start and lost. His short kick was intercepted by Paddy Small who offloaded to Ciaran Kilkenny who fired the ball in past White as the Clonakilty man was arriving back on his goal line.

Within a minute McCaffrey caressed an inch-perfect over-the-top ball into Brian Fenton's grateful arms who showed considerably less delicacy but equal accuracy to beat White for the fifth time as Dublin suddenly found themselves 13 points clear, almost in spite of themselves. And there endeth the lesson: if you're going to poke the hornet's nest be prepared to get badly stung.

And yet there are so many positives Cork can and will take from this experience; positives they much enhance back at the venue next Saturday when they take on Tyrone in what is a must win game for the Rebels.

As they did against Kerry and then Laois, when Cork ran at the heart of Dublin's defence they did bore holes through them with some success. Alas, like in the Munster Final, their final touch in front of goal betrayed them on a day when they needed to make every single chance count. Take, for example, Brian Hurley in the 28th minute when he brilliantly cut inside Mick Fitzsimons near the endline and bore down on Stephen Cluxton. Cork trailed 0-8 to 1-7 at that stage and even a point would have been a valuable score. Rightly, Hurley backed himself for the goal but his low shot was saved by the Dublin goalkeeper and Dublin counter-attacked immediately wkith Con O'Callaghan popping over a point into the Hill end to make it a three-point game.

Contrast that with Jack McCaffrey in the 11th minute - Dublin trailing by four - when the flying wing-back drove in past a couple of Cork defenders who did well, it seemed, to shepherd him away from the goal but the Clontarf man still screwed his body to get a shot back away goal, which beat White at the far post.

Or the killer score from both teams' perspective in the very last seconds of the first half. Three points down at that stage, Cork would have been delighted to get to the dressing room 0-9 to 1-9 behind, and maybe their minds were already heading down the tunnel. Dublin's weren't, though, and when O'Callaghan and Costello combined Michael Darragh MacAuley had the simplest of tap-ins to make it 2-9 to 0-9 at the break.

If Cork were capsized by that second goal they didn't show it after re-emerging. Connolly fired over a great point; Mattie Taylor drew a save from Cluxton for a '45', which Connolly converted; and then Ian Maguire was illegally sandwiched in the square for a penalty, which Connolly smashed past Cluxton to make it 2-10 to 1-11.

But Dublin were starting to roll up their sleeves and get serious. Points from John Small, Philly McMahon and Rock made it 2-13 to 1-12 before White had to save well from Small's shot. Another Rock free raised a flag before Taylor and Brian Hurley came back with points to leave just a score between them, 2-14 to 1-14, after 56 minutes.

Were the champions rocking? No, they were just starting to roll. Scully's 63rd goal drove a wedge between the teams that Cork were never going to remove but it's what happened thereafter that will have resonated around the country, from Killarney to Castlebar, Ballybofey to Omagh and all points between. Three goals and three points followed from the champions in the Dubs version of shock and awe football.

A 13-point shellacking was hardly what Cork's overall performance deserved but that's somewhat immaterial. For an hour Cork danced with the devil and seemed pretty comfortable in that company. But to paraphrase the Charles Baudelaire line: The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn't exist - so just when Cork thought they might survive here to some extent Dublin came for their soul.

Dublin: S Cluxton; D Byrne, M Fitzsimons, P McMahon 0-2; J Small 0-1, C O'Sullivan, J McCaffrey 1-0; B Fenton 1-1, MD Macauley 1-0; N Scully 1-0, C Kilkenny 1-2, B Howard; P Mannion 0-2, Con O'Callaghan 0-4, C Costello 0-1. Subs: D Rock 0-5 (3f, 1 '45') for Costello (45), P Small for O'Callaghan (65), J Cooper for O'Sullivan (68), K McManamon for Mannion (68), E Murchan for McCaffrey (69), J McCarthy for Fenton (72).

Cork: M White; Thomas Clancy, K Flahive, J Loughrey; L Donovan 0-1, Tomás Clancy, M Taylor 0-1; I Maguire, K O'Driscoll 0-1; P Kerrigan 0-3, S White 0-1, R Deane 0-1; M Collins 0-1f, B Hurley 0-3 (1f), L Connolly 1-3 (1-0 pen, 1 '45'). Subs: M Hurley 0-2 for Kerrigan (56), K O'Donovan for Loughrey (56), R O'Toole for S White (63), S Sherlock for Connolly (65), C Kiely for O'Donovan (66), J O'Rourke for Maguire (69).

Referee: D Gough (Meath)

The game in 60 seconds

Main man

Cork were best served by Mattie Taylor, Sean White, Ruairi Deane, Luke Connolly and Paul Kerrigan but every player put in a great shift for the best part of an hour. Dublin exuded class all over from Philly McMahon and John Small in defence, Fenton and MacAuley at midfield and Ciaran Kilkenny, Paul Mannion and Con O'Callaghan in attack, but JACK McCAFFREY played at a different level to everyone else at wing back and caused all sorts of problems for Cork with his direct running game.

Key Moment

It looked like Cork were heading to half time just three points down, 0-9 to 1-9, with two minutes of additional time almost elapsed. The clock tipped into a third minute of added time when and Cormac Costello teed up Michael Darragh MacAuley for a palmed goal right on the stroke of half time. It gave Dublin a six-point cushion and turned Cork's task in the second half from a hill to climb to a mountain to scale.

Talking Point

A 13-point defeat was probably an unfair reflection on how well Cork played for over 60 minutes but Dublin showed again how they can kill off teams who start to fatigue late in games. Cork need to extrapolate the positives from last weekend to bring back to Croke Park against Tyrone in what's a must win game for the Rebels. Win and they've a great chance at a semi-final; lose and they're looking at a dead rubber game against Roscommon.