Cork prove too hot to handle
THE journey doesn't matter if the final destination is eventually reached but, irrespective of how Cork fare in the remainder of the championship, yesterday's stop-off at the quarter-final won't feature in many end-of-season reflections.
Cork were no more than functional for very long stretches against a Roscommon team that's brand new to this level of business. And while they brought as much energy and enthusiasm as they could muster, the Rossies lacked the power, guile and experience to match Cork all the way.
Roscommon stayed in contention with admirable efficiency up to the early stages of the second half but wilted from there on, losing the final 25 minutes by 1-8 to 0-2. Cork sub Donncha O'Connor could even afford to hoist a late penalty over the bar, secure in the knowledge that Roscommon were left so far behind that they had no hope of staging a significant flourish.
Sloppy passing by the Cork attack wrecked some other goal opportunities, and Roscommon goalkeeper Geoffrey Claffey also made a few smart saves. However, there was nothing he could do about Cork's goal in the 64th minute as Pearse O'Neill was left with a clear shot on goal after a slick move played him in.
O'Neill was a major figure in Cork's improvement after Roscommon stunned them with three points early in the second half, opening up an 0-8 to 0-7 lead after 41 minutes.
Ger Heneghan, whose shot was tipped over the bar by Alan Quirke, Karol Mannion and Michael Finneran kicked those three points in a highly productive two-minute burst, which left the big Roscommon following daring to dream that the pattern of upsets which prevailed in Croke Park on Saturday was about to be extended.
Roscommon's recovery from what had been a four-point deficit after 26 minutes had been most impressive. Their high work rate caused Cork all sorts of problems in the run-up to half-time and points by John Rogers and Donie Shine (two) sliced the margin to a point (0-6 to 0-5).
Indeed, Roscommon were unlucky not to have drawn level when a late stoppage-time effort from Shine drifted wide.
The degree to which Cork were unhappy with their first-half performance was underlined by the corrective action embarked on by Conor Counihan at the break.
Cork reappeared with no fewer than three changes as seasoned campaigners Nicholas Murphy, Donncha O'Connor and John Miskella were brought on in a rearranged alignment which, among other moves, saw Graham Canty switched to full-back.
Murphy's arrival at midfield proved hugely important.
Michael Finneran and Mannion had done quite well up to then but Murphy was very much the dominant influence once Cork settled into a forward rhythm after Roscommon's early second-half storm had subsided.
Ciaran Sheehan equalised in the 42nd minute and Cork pressed on from there, scoring a string of points which put them way outside Roscommon's range. Cork finished with 14 men when Sheehan had to go off injured in the 68th minute, by which time they had used their full quota of subs.
Earlier, they had lost Canty, who pulled a hamstring as he raced through to score a point. It remains to be seen whether that poses a risk to his participation in the semi-final against Dublin on August 22.
Counihan will have other concerns too, after a performance that provided him with more questions than answers.
The biggest dilemma facing him is deciding on his best starting 15. It's unusual for a team to have reached this stage of the championship without having settled on its best line-up but Cork are still struggling to find that elusive balance.
Aidan Walsh -- who was replaced at half-time -- and Derek Kavanagh were not an imposing midfield pairing and will come under pressure from Murphy and Alan O'Connor, who did well in the second half. There was a defensive looseness about Cork at times too, especially just before and after half-time, while the attack took an awfully long time to open the channels and stretch Roscommon to breaking point.
Daniel Goulding and O'Neill did well but elsewhere there was a sluggishness which didn't lift until well into the second half.
In different circumstances, that would have proved far more costly than it did yesterday.
With Roscommon still only finding their feet at this level, Cork could afford to misfire before finally getting their act together. However, as Counihan admitted afterwards, they have a lot to work on before the semi-final.
Dublin would have been hugely encouraged by what they saw of Cork yesterday. There were times in the first half when the Rebels looked flat and sterile, often crabbing across the field with no real method while also resorting to passing the ball back to goalkeeper Alan Quirke. He made a few direct runs up the centre as if to show his outfield colleagues the lines they should attack but even then it took them a long time to react.
Indeed, if Roscommon had managed to get more ball through to Shine and Heneghan, Cork might well have been chasing a much bigger lead early in the second half.
Instead, Roscommon were only a point ahead and once Cork raised their game, the outcome was never in any doubt. Physically, Cork are a bigger side than Roscommon and they used that advantage to good effect in the second half as they drove towards the Canal End goal.
"We came here to get a job done and we managed that but obviously we have a lot of areas to improve on," said Counihan.
Given the repair work carried out in every outfield line, the Aghada man really is facing a demanding few weeks, as he bids to get the balance right for what will be a completely different challenge against Dublin.
As for Roscommon, winning the Connacht title represented considerable progress. And while they were disappointed to fade away so alarmingly on the run-in yesterday, this young side will have learned from what was a valuable experience at this stage of their development.
Scorers -- Cork: D Goulding 0-6 (0-2f, 0-1 '45'), P O'Neill 1-2, D O'Connor 0-3 (0-1 pen), C Sheehan, P Kerrigan 0-2 each, G Canty 0-1. Roscommon: D Shine 0-5 (0-3f), D O'Gara, J Rogers, G Heneghan, K Mannion, M Finneran 0-1 each.
Cork -- A Quirke 7; R Carey 7, M Shields 6, J O'Sullivan 6; N O'Leary 7, G Canty 7, P Kissane 8; D Kavanagh 6, A Walsh 5; P Kelly 6, P O'Neill 8, P Kerrigan 7; D Goulding 8, C Sheehan 7, C O'Neill 5. Subs: N Murphy 8 for Walsh (ht), D O'Connor 7 for O'Neill (ht), J Miskella 7 for O'Sullivan (ht), A O'Connor 7 for Kavanagh (51), E Cotter 6 for Canty (58).
Roscommon -- G Claffey 8; S McDermott 7, P Domican 7, S Ormsby 6; S Purcell 6, C Dineen 6, D Casey 6; M Finneran 6, K Mannion 6; D Keenan 6, D O'Gara 7, C Cregg 6; J Rogers 6, D Shine 7, G Heneghan 7. Subs: C Garvey 6 for Purcell (48), K Higgins 5 for Rogers (51), E Kenny 6 for Mannion (55), J Dunning 5 for Cregg (62), J Nolan for Casey (66).
Ref -- C Reilly (Meath).