McCormack goal helps Lilies 'prove doubters wrong'
Kildare 1-14 Cork 1-8
The word on the street after Kildare's demoralising O'Byrne Cup semi-final defeat to Dublin's 'third-string' last month was that Cian O'Neill had a mountain to climb to pick their confidence off the floor, but the Lilywhites have responded emphatically.
They sit atop Division 2 with four points as the only side with a 100pc record after making it back-to-back wins against a lifeless Cork side and the most pleasing aspect of the six-point victory for O'Neill must be their positive reaction to adversity.
It was one-way traffic with the breeze at their backs in the opening half as Kildare limited Cork to three pointed frees and coasted into a five-point half-time lead, 0-8 to 0-3, but after having a brilliant Daniel Flynn goal disallowed early in the second half, the raucous Newbridge crowd awoke, as did the Rebels.
It looked like it could dent Kildare's charge but exciting young attacker Ben McCormack hit the net minutes later. And when Luke Connolly's long-range effort went all the way to the net and Cork substitute Barry O'Driscoll closed the gap to two, 1-9 to 1-7, things were getting nervy, but their response was immediate once again.
Neil Flynn reeled off three in a row to help outscore Cork 0-5 to 0-1 in the final quarter and after listening to many naysayers knocking his side during his reign in charge, O'Neill's army silenced their critics.
"It was a really good win, it's a very important win for us because there is a lot of doubt about this group of players, about the team, certainly not from within but from outside the set-up which is just noise to us. But it's inevitable that it creeps in," O'Neill said.
"If it didn't work for us today it would have been the usual, 'Ah yeah Kildare were very good last week and now they are back to themselves this week', so I think we proved a lot of doubters wrong. But the most important thing is we proved to ourselves we are moving in the right direction.
"I think that was a statement that we shouldn't fear anyone. We just need to go out and play and perform and we did that again. It was different to last week but it was a real gutsy performance and we'll take that."
With just one point from their first two games the pressure is now on pre-competition promotion favourites Cork and selector Eoin O'Neill is happy to have two weeks to prepare for Fermanagh's visit to Páirc Uí Rinn to fix their misfiring attack.
Peadar Healy's side went 20 minutes without making an impact on the scoreboard in the middle of the first half and waited 41 minutes to hit their first score from play with O'Neill demanding a major improvement in their conversion rate
"We had five from 15 scoring chances in the second half. You can't win games like that and that's the bottom line. The lads know that and we'll review that. Five from 15, when you have the wind that's just not good enough. We have to start improving and improving fast," he said.
"It nearly took us all we had to get back to two points. If you got a couple of other scores in those 10 misses that would have made it easier to stay alive. We didn't convert and that comes back and haunts you on the scoreboard."
Kildare utilised the wind in the opening half with Kevin Feely, who made great use of the 'mark' rule, ruling the roost at midfield and Daniel Flynn nearly got them off to a perfect start but his goal-bound effort was tipped over by Cork 'keeper Ryan Price.
Connolly and Colm O'Neill got Cork off the mark but Kildare took complete control as McCormack hit two lovely points before a brace from Feely, and a Neil Flynn free, saw them assert their dominance (0-6 to 0-2) with Cork's handling letting them down in challenging conditions.
Flynn extended the lead before Connolly broke their barren spell with a placed ball and midfielder Ian Maguire was unlucky to shoot wide from close-range on the half-hour mark as Paul Cribbin closed out the scoring to leave his side five points clear.
Cork hit the opening points of the second period through Paul Kerrigan and former All-Star Aidan Walsh but Daniel Flynn responded with what looked like a legitimate goal in the 44th minute.
Flynn's meandering run through the Cork defence finished with the ball in the net but it was subsequently overruled after referee Cormac Reilly consulted with linesman Maurice Deegan, who adjudged Flynn to have hopped the ball twice to O'Neill's bemusement.
"I've never seen it before and I'm involved a long time. Apparently the linesman has the power to overrule if it's a technical foul, which is what was said to me. For me the referee's decision is always final," O'Neill said.
It incensed home support but Tommy Moolick restored order with a great point before McCormack brilliantly fired to the net after collecting a beautifully miscued Paul Cribbin point attempt and beating Price, 1-9 to 0-5.
Cork didn't lie down, however, and Tomás Clancy surged forward to point before Connolly's speculative effort from distance went all the way to the net with Maguire providing sufficient distraction for Kildare 'keeper Mark Donnellan to take his eye off what looked a relatively routine catch.
The Cork comeback was on when O'Driscoll pointed but Neil Flynn and Paul Cribbin steadied nerves and both sides finished with 14 men as Keith Cribbin and John O'Rourke were black-carded with the substitution quota reached as the Lilies powered to victory.
SCORERS - Kildare: N Flynn 0-5 (3f), B McCormack 1-2, K Feely and P Cribbin 0-2 each, T Moolick, C Healy (f) and D Flynn 0-1 each.
Cork: L Connolly 1-3 (3f), A Walsh, P Kerrigan, Tomás Clancy B O'Driscoll and C O'Neill (f) 0-1 each.
KILDARE - M Donnellan 7; O Lyons 7, D Hyland 7, M O'Grady 7; J Byrne 6, E Doyle 8, K Cribbin 7; K Feely 8, T Moolick 7; F Conway 6, N Kelly 6, P Cribbin 7; N Flynn 8, D Flynn 7, B McCormack 8. Subs: C McNally 6 for Moolick (59), C Healy 6 for Conway (63), D Slattery for McCormack (67), P Kelly for N Kelly (70), S Ryan for Feely (72 BC), C Hartley for N Flynn (73).
CORK - R Price 7; J McLoughlin 6, Tom Clancy 6, K Crowley 6; C Dorman 5, J Loughrey 7, Tomás Clancy 7; A Walsh 6, I Maguire 6; R Deane 5, S Powter 5, M Collins 6; C O'Neill 5, L Connolly 7, P Kerrigan 6. Subs: J O'Rourke 6 for Powter (h-t), B O'Driscoll 7 for C Dorman (51), D O'Connor 6 for Collins (52), J Mullins 6 for Crowley (54), D Óg Hodnett 6 for Maguire (60), N Coakley 6 for O'Neill (63).
REF - C Reilly (Meath)