| 6.9°C Dublin

Ragged rebels limp into semis

AFTER a weekend of upsets of the seismic variety, Cork avoided the curse of the favourites tags and are now the last branch of the big three still intact. Almost by default, they're now All-Ireland favourites too.

Yet reconciling that billing with their performance yesterday in Croke Park is a tough nugget to crack.

Beating Roscommon by 1-16 to 0-10 in their All-Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park will have come as a surprise to no one, yet some of the lethargy in their play and the fact that match was still a contest entering the second half just might.

The big red Cork machine has chugged and spluttered its way through the qualifiers, rarely clicking into overdrive but perhaps tellingly, just doing enough each day to win through to an All-Ireland semi-final with Dublin on August 22.

That they eventually won by nine points is beside the point. For long spells, it was a case of tired limbs and malfunctioning brains against a young team with a newfound zest.


Roscommon, heroes of the Connacht final of two weeks back, left the unfamiliar arena of Croke Park to an ovation from their travelling support and a stack of pride and encouragement to nurture them through the winter.

It was, to all intents and purposes, predictable enough fair, though the consequences are debatable. Cork, as is their wont in recent weeks, laboured for plenty of the game. Got tied up in knots in possession in their own back line and failed to truly ignite up front.

A string of matches on four successive weeks has taken its toll on the Munster champions and the fresher legs of Roscommon put them under all sorts of hassle up until half-time.

"Maybe there was some bit of tiredness there but you've got to give Roscommon full credit," commented Conor Counihan afterwards. "They were hungry. By comparison, they probably didn't have any great experience in Croke Park but it didn't seem to cause them any grief. We would be disappointed with some of our options in the first half but we picked it up in the second half."

Counihan bit the bullet, made three changes at half-time and the landscape of the match altered beyond recognition. On came Nicholas Murphy and his 35-minute cameo was the most meaningful performance of any midfielder in the match.

Donncha O'Connor, too, slipped into the strangely toothless Rebel inside forward unit and fired three points, included a pointed penalty effort late on.

At the back, John Miskella joined in, comprising part of a defensive reshuffle which saw Graham Canty switch onto the impressive Donie Shine and, until his enforced exit after scoring a point in the 59th minute, he managed to nullify the impact of his talents.

"Nobody went out to play poorly today," said Counihan. "Maybe some of the people we took off would feel harshly treated but we had to make changes and thankfully, it worked.

"We were angry but there's no point in losing the head. That doesn't get us anywhere so our message was obviously that he had to lift it but also to remain composed as well and show a bit more conviction."

Roscommon actually edged into the lead for the first time in the 41st minute after a burst of scoring. Both midfielders, Michael Finneran and Karl Mannion, galloped onto lay-offs from Shine after Ger Heneghan's earlier effort and understandably, given the events of the weekend up until that point, no one was ruling Roscommon out.

Cork belatedly hit their stride, though, clipping five points on the spin. The menacing Daniel Goulding, the only Cork forward really motoring in the first half, began the Rebel jolt.

Pearse O'Neill -- Cork's other standout attacker -- began opening holes in the centre of the Roscommon attack and added one himself. Eventually, Paul Kerrigan's graft was rewarded and he plundered a score while all the Rossies could do was rely on Shine for a couple of converted frees.

The score that killed the game as a contest, though, came from a fumbled ball from Roscommon wing-back David Casey under pressure from another Cork sub, Alan O'Connor.

So advanced was the Roscommon rearguard that Cork found themselves in possession in a three-on-zero break. Pearse O'Neill ignored the claims of either of his two wing men to slot the only goal of the game past Geoffrey Claffey.

Cork might have had another goal just a couple of minutes later but referee Cormac Reilly blew for a penalty for a footblock instead of allowing advantage and Goulding's subsequent tap in.

Sensibly, O'Connor chipped the spot kick over the bar.

"I'd say we just ran out of steam," reckoned Roscommon boss Fergal O'Donnell. "The disappointing thing is the last 20 minutes. The amount of ball we gave away. Cork were coming with a run. People will say Cork could have got another two, three goals but it would have been handed to them.


"They emptied the bench at half-time and we stayed with them," he added.

"I think it is an accumulation of factors: we just didn't have the strength in depth they had. It is a young team as well. Just a few turnovers, a bit of power. A few lads came off and our replacements just weren't as strong."

Uninspired but still alive, Cork march on into a somewhat novel All-Ireland semi-final clash with Dublin. They know the terrain well at this stage but there are question marks about team selection.

Coupled with that, Canty's injury and that of Ciarán Sheehan (Cork finished the match with 14 men as they had already used their complement of subs by the time the latter limped off) and the ongoing uncertsinty over Eoin Cadogan's availability, make them a little more vulnerable looking than in the past.

"People talk about this team being favourites," offered Counihan afterwards. "But it's all about on the day. For us, the next day it's no difference. We have a few weeks, a bit of a break and loads of work to do. After that, we'll see how we get on."