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Rebel rookies rampant

JUST three weeks into the season and already the All-Ireland football champions have set up a tasty little tussle with Kerry ahead of their National League first-round clash next month.

Next weekend's McGrath Cup semi-final between the Munster arch-rivals will surely attract more than the paltry crowd that watched yesterday's cakewalk at the Gaelic Grounds.

The crowd barely warranted that term; it was strictly family and close friends only and barely reached three figures, a far cry from that extra-time qualifier thriller that was Cork's last trip to the Gaelic Grounds last summer.

Ger Spillane and Eoin Cotter were both introduced before throw-in and Donncha O'Connor came off the bench later but this was, technically, a second-string Cork that included the brothers of Pearse O'Neill (Tom) and Fintan Goold (David).


For the second week in a row Mark Cronin made a quick and considerable impact, smacking over 0-3 in five minutes which almost equalled the 0-4 in as many minutes that he had scored the previous week.

He's the star of Gabriel Rovers, a junior club who won a West Cork title this year and Cork selector and stand-in manager Terry O'Neill accepted that "he's a very talented natural footballer who needs to be exposed now in the higher level to just see what he can do".

Another putting his hand up for league panel inclusion was Ballinascarthy's Denis O'Sullivan (22), who scored 1-1 from wing-back, his 65th-minute goal a real piledriver off a great solo burst which drove the final nail into Limerick's coffin.

"Denis is another very natural footballer who, bear in mind, is just back from two cruciate operations so it could take him another 12 months to fulfil the expectations at this level, but he has great potential," said O'Neill.

Also showing good form for Cork's 'development' team was the more familiar figure of Fiachra Lynch, who bagged 1-3 before half-time. The switch of top Limerick defender Johnny McCarthy curtailed his dominance but the damage was already done, Lynch helping Cork to establish a two-goal lead (2-5 to 0-5) at the break, the second green flag a brilliant individual effort from Kevin MacMahon.

Cork goalkeeper David Lordan also impressed, making excellent saves in both halves to ensure that Limerick never got back into the game. His first intervention came after 16 minutes when he stopped John Cooke's shot and John Mullane's follow-up, a double-save that proved pivotal as Cork immediately goaled off the next attack, with Jason Sexton providing the excellent final pass to Lynch.

This game was certainly a baptism of fire for new Limerick boss Maurice Horan, who had only 20 fit players available yesterday and admitted afterwards that it will take his side some time to adapt to the more direct kind of game that he wants them to play.

Horan gave inter-county debuts to Conor Wallace, Mike Sheehan, Mike McCormack, Derry McCarthy and Liam Costello and had to bring in Stephen Kelly to replace Seanie Buckley (hamstring) before throw-in.

Horan still had five starters from the sides' last meeting however, including midfield general John Galvin. His influence yesterday was definitely curbed by injury, but the midfield star was double-marked every time he moved and also got some less than legal attention off the ball.

Ian Ryan's free-taking largely kept Limerick in the game and a run of five unanswered points soon after the re-start cut the deficit to just a goal and give them a fighting chance.

But then Cronin replied with three points in a row to re-open the gap and even at the end, when substitute Donagh Kelly split the defence with a searing run and finish, Lordan was alert and tipped his shot over the bar.

Scorers -- Cork: F Lynch 1-3, D O'Sullivan, K MacMahon 1-1 each, M Cronin 0-3, AJ O'Connor, D Goold, J Sexton 0-1 each. Limerick: I Ryan 0-7 (5f), L Costello 0-2, B Fitzpatrick, J Cooke, D Kelly 0-1 each.

Cork -- D Lordan; B Shanahan, G Spillane, E Cotter; D O'Sullivan, R O'Sullivan, AJ O'Connor; A O'Connor, E Keane; T O'Neill, D Goold, K McMahon; J Sexton, F Lynch, C O'Driscoll. Subs: M Cronin for Sexton (51), D O'Connor for Keane (55), M Herlihy for O'Driscoll (60), D O'Donovan for MacMahon (65), M Dilworth for Goold (68).

Limerick -- C Wallace; J McCarthy, B Fitzpatrick, M Sheehan; M McCormack, S Gallagher, P Ranahan; E Joy, J Galvin; J Mullane, S Kelly, D McCarthy; L Costello, J Cooke, I Ryan. Subs: J Hoare for McCormack (44), D Kelly for McCarthy (55), E Fitzgibbon for Sheehan (61), P Kinnerk for Cooke (65), P Ahern for Kinnerk (67).

Ref -- M Condon (Waterford)

Irish Independent