Predator O'Neill's double ends home rule for Monaghan
Cork 2-14 Monaghan 1-16 ALLIANZ NFL DIVISION 1
Every February league match Brian Cuthbert has been in charge of as Cork senior football manager they have won.
In an overall context it's not much but as the bus pulled out of St Mary's Park in Castleblayney yesterday evening, where competitive senior inter-county football was returning for the first time in nine years, it had to have provided a glow of satisfaction for all on board.
Victory over Dublin at home followed by success in the first of four journeys north that Division 1 has thrown up for them over the next seven weeks amounts to something much more nourishing than the fast food fix that home wins over Westmeath and Kildare provided this time 12 months ago.
Cuthbert was pragmatic enough to acknowledge afterwards how "the heat of this is championship and we're a long way from championship".
Last year the summer temperature was just too much for them but on the evidence of the last seven days they may be a little more equipped for the shock waves of days like the Munster final.
Still Cuthbert was pleased with the "resilience and character" shown to come from four points down, 1-13 to 1-9, after 50 minutes and win an absorbing and physically testing match against opponents buoyed up by their performance in Tyrone eight days earlier. Castleblayney isn't an easy place to come when there is almost unanimous support among the 5,248 for the home team who hadn't lost a league game on Monaghan soil in four years since Kerry turned them over in Inniskeen.
They probably should have got a draw, a last-gasp free from Conor McManus from 42 metres drifting wide before referee Fergal Kelly called time. Maybe it might have been different had Paul Finlay, who was originally standing over it and looking like he was going to kick it, pressed ahead and taken it but the wind suited the right-footed kicker.
Ultimately the predatory instincts of Colm O'Neill got Cork over the line. For much of this O'Neill was outplayed by the superb Ryan Wylie, alert and tenacious in everything he did around the full-back line.
But Wylie knows now how Mayo's Keith Higgins felt in Limerick last August in his memorable duel with James O'Donoghue in the All-Ireland semi-final replay. To play so well, do so much right and yet see a 2-6 tally beside your opponent's name must be frustrating. But that's O'Neill, too classy to keep down for an entire match.
"He can do that," said Cuthbert. "To be fair, I thought Ryan Wylie was doing very well on him to hold him out and he took the ball off him a few times but the class that Colm has. He was quiet in the first half and then he exploded. Once he gets a sniff, there's no better player in the country to take a goal."
He fired home the first on 42 minutes after a lay-off from Ian Maguire to reduce the first four-point gap that had developed just after the break.
When the impressive Mark Collins, knotting everything together at midfield, and James Loughrey set up Brian O'Driscoll for an equaliser two minutes later Monaghan's front-running looked like it might be in vain.
But the home side took off again with four successive points, one from Dermot Malone and three from Conor McManus (two from frees that he had won himself) and you couldn't see them being caught again.
"I thought Monaghan had the game to be honest," admitted Cuthbert.
McManus was a handful for the Cork defence for most of the second half, a variety of different markers struggling to tie him up. Six of the eight frees he converted he was fouled for himself.
But Cork weren't for yielding and when Collins squared a ball for O'Neill on 52 minutes, Wylie's height disadvantage was exposed and the finish was sublime to set up a grandstand finale.
They were level three more times after that before substitute John Hayes set up O'Neill for the final lead point off his less favoured right foot.
Monaghan will rue not being more penetrative in the first half when they had greater momentum, courtesy of Kieran Hughes' 21st-minute goal after good approach work from Ryan McAnespie.
Paul Finlay's composure and distribution, allied to the driving runs of Fintan Kelly, Conor Boyle and Dessie Mone from the back gave them a strong platform. The Wylies, Ryan and older brother Drew, had the measure of Brian Hurley and O'Neill while Paul Kerrigan's roaming brief from full-forward didn't have the desired effect for Cork.
But they only led by 1-6 to 0-8 and lost Dessie Mone to a black card just before the break when he hauled down Donncha O'Connor at close range.
At first glance it was a clearcut decision but the officials took their time about it. Monaghan might also have conceded a penalty when Stephen Gollogly took down Colm O'Driscoll much earlier in the half.
The reluctance to dole out the proper cards was apparent throughout the second half. Maguire got away with taking McManus down off the ball and dragging down Boyle late on.
It was a point Malachy O'Rourke didn't dispute afterwards. "There was a lot of other incidents where we felt there was men pulled down and there were no black cards. So there is an awful lot of inconsistency which is a bit frustrating."
In a week where the Dublin manager Jim Gavin felt he had seen the most defensive Cork team ever in his time, Cuthbert said there was more freedom to their play this time. "The victory in all of this is having a variety to our play," he said. "I think we played a bit differently today than we did against Dublin. It wasn't as defensive as last week."
The success of their kick-out strategy was another positive to take away.
With difficult games ahead against Mayo and Dublin away and Kerry Monaghan will feel this is a point that slipped away. "We knew there would be setbacks but we didn't get too excited after last week and we won't get too much in despair after this," said O'Rourke.
Man of the Match: Mark Collins (Cork)
Scorers - Cork: C O'Neill 2-6 (5fs), D O'Connor 0-5 (4fs), E Cadogan, B O'Driscoll, B Hurley all 0-1 each. Monaghan: C McManus 0-9 (8fs), K Hughes 1-0, P Finlay 0-3 (1f), C Boyle, F Kelly, K Duffy, D Malone all 0-1 each.
Cork - K O'Halloran 8; E Cadogan 7, Tom Clancy 7, J Loughrey 6; C Dorman 6, Tomas Clancy 6, B O'Driscoll 7; M Collins 8, I Maguire 7; D O'Connor 8, J O'Rourke 6, C O'Driscoll 5; C O'Neill 8, P Kerrigan 5, B Hurley 6. Subs: K O'Driscoll 5 for Kerrigan (h-t), M Shields 7 for C O'Driscoll (50), D Og Hodnett for Hurley (64), J Hayes for O'Connor (65)
Monaghan - R Beggan 7; D Wylie 7, C Boyle 6, R Wylie 8; D Mone 7, F Kelly, 6, K Duffy 7; N McAdam 6, P Finlay 8; D Malone 7, S Gollogly 6, R McAnespie 6; C McManus 8, D McKenna 5, K Hughes 6. Subs: V Corey 7 for Mone (BC, ht), T Kerr 6 for McKenna (h-t), D Clerkin 6 for McAdam (49), O Duffy for McAnespie (64), K O'Connell for K Duffy (65).
Ref - F Kelly (Longford)