There were a few things on the Cork wishlist going into last night’s duel with Dublin. The first one, of course, was not to give away an early goal and to try and get to half-time with the game still in the balance. That was achieved relatively easily.
In their three previous championship matches, the Dublin supporters were able to go off and get an ice cream after 20 minutes, safe in the knowledge that it was just a mopping up exercise from then on.
The Cork cause was helped by the enforced absences of James McCarthy and Con O’Callaghan, two of the best players of this, or any other, era in football. Dublin were a bit ponderous and lacked their normal fluency. Not only did they not get the goal which creates waves of noise that unsettles all teams but they never even created a goal chance.
So the game meandered on in a low key manner without any atmosphere, which you have to think suited Cork perfectly.
Brian Hurley and Steven Sherlock were causing plenty of problems for Mick Fitzsimons and Eoin Murchan when they stayed close to goal and Cork were able to deliver the ball in quickly. In fact Cork did not try to take advantage of many chances when there was no sweeper back and they should have hoofed it in as Hurley had a size advantage over Murchan. With Jonny Cooper pushing up into midfield it did leave the Dublin full-back line a little exposed.
Dublin got all their kick-outs away easily as Cork decided to be conservative and get their backs in position rather than risk pushing up and being caught thin at the back. Dublin attempted to pressurise Micheál Martin in the Cork goal but he stayed calm and found his man most of the time, even with the long ones, although Dublin snaffled a few scores from kickout turnovers.
Yet for all their minor shortcomings Dublin were three up at half-time and the lead easily stretched on the resumption. Cork backs were fouling as they could not cope with the strong running all over the pitch, Scully drawing several and Dean Rock clipped them over. Both the easy and the hard ones. When was it any different? Normal service.
Brian Fenton, who was quiet in the first half, kicked over a couple and Cork did not score for the first 20 minutes of the second half. By then it was over and the seagulls who had taken over in the first half had gone home. They were bored too and the Dubs were back to leaving few scraps.
The Cork performance was similar to their display against Kerry. They hung in for a while and avoided a humiliation but they don’t have the fitness, physicality or individually talented players to really put it up to the top teams. John Cleary has halted the decline but there is a long road back.
This game told us very little about Dublin. Their big match comes up in a fortnight and they will need O’Callaghan and McCarthy. At least Rock can still kick frees from anywhere, Ciaran Kilkenny will always deliver and Fenton will be more motivated. Scully covers huge amounts of ground, Brian Howard is calm and measured in possession and there is probably only one team who can match Dublin for pace.
Yet concerns persist in the full-back line and there is a chance for some team to make hay with an agricultural approach. Let it in high and have a big full-forward fight for it. Overall though it was a pretty dull day in Croke Park.