Rebels survive scare to end Longford's giant-killing spree
Cork 2-9 Longford 1-6
In a football championship starved of drama the qualifiers have provided moments of nourishment and for a while at Pearse Park yesterday it looked like Longford might provide another beast of a result.
Anticipation of an upset hung tantalisingly in the air during the interval. The home team led by four points. They'd kept Cork to three points, and scoreless for the final 25 minutes of the first half. But after half time the dream unravelled.
It was not to be. Having put out Down and Monaghan, burying a third successive Division 1 side proved beyond their reach. Cork won the second half, despite facing the wind, 2-6 to 0-2, and were conclusive victors by the finish. Longford had the wind but as Cork found in the first half it didn't blow in an obligingly direct line away from the town goal. The swirl made for depressing and defeating wides which sucked the life out of Longford after half-time.
That was one side of it, the more telling being Cork's response and how they moved up the gears and raised the tempo. The made a better fist of their running game and with Longford scoring only two second-half points, the result began to look increasingly inevitable.
Colm O'Neill and Patrick Kelly came into the team at the interval and both had a significant impact on the play. O'Neill's stylishly taken goal had Cork in front, 1-6 to 1-4, in the 49th minute. All in the ground nodded that the score had been coming. Five minutes earlier O'Neill had another goal attempt from a few yards out, kicking on the ground, but Paddy Collum saved well with his legs.
Kelly kicked a good score to widen the advantage and while Brian Kavanagh finally got Longford off the mark with a 56th-minute point, the game was put beyond doubt on the hour when a pinpoint pass from Kelly set up Ian Maguire for the second Cork goal. The move began with a typical forward burst from Alan O'Connor, who had a massive game in the middle of the field, where Longford were unlucky to lose Michael Brady to injury.
Both sides finished with less than the full complement of players. With 15 minutes left Darren Gallagher of Longford and Cork's James Loughrey were sent off on straight red cards, and near the end Diarmuid Masterson picked up a second yellow card for needless indiscipline.
Cork came into the match having looked unimpressive in defeating Limerick the weekend before and Longford appeared to have more buoyancy early on. Strong and aggressive in the tackle, they benefited from a penalty goal by Kavanagh in the 26th minute after a foul on Robbie Smyth. That strike put the home team 1-3 to 0-3 in front as Cork struggled with their game. Hopes of an upset grew when Longford full-back Barry Gilleran made a smart and inspiring interception shortly before half-time and began a move that ended with a James McGivney point, to leave them 1-4 to 0-3 clear.
Little that Cork tried came off. Daniel Goulding, a late inclusion for O'Neill, was off-key with dead balls, hitting two wide, one a 45, and another dropping short. At half time O'Neill replaced him. Talented under 21 captain Peter Kelleher had little change off Gilleran, ten years after the Longford man made a baptism of fire debut on Kieran Donaghy in the qualifiers. Beside Gilleran, 34-year-old Dermot Brady gave a masterclass in wily defending.
They could have been more in front. Liam Connerton snatched at a couple of opportunities and Masterson scored a point and was narrowly wide with another. Kavanagh was well marked by Eoin Cadogan but his penalty put some daylight between the teams. Cork, having led 0-3 to 0-1 after ten minutes, didn't score again for the rest of the half.
Longford were on course to match their previous best qualifier run of 2006 when they won three in succession but their hopes gradually dissipated on the restart. Cork reappeared noticeably more urgent and the changes worked well. Michael Hurley was a lively presence throughout and two points from Mark Collins either side of an O'Neill free brought Cork to within a point of Longford, before O'Neill scored their first goal.
Longford tried to rally but their over-reliance on Kavanagh for scores was visible in the necessary runs he made out of position looking for the final pass. Even with his ability to point from distance, the wind made the task appreciably harder and Cork paid vigilant heed to his movements. A goal never looked likely. Their challenge began to fade and Cork's second goal from Maguire on the hour killed the atmosphere.
Cork did not include Alan Cadogan or Aidan Walsh in their squad despite calling them into training after the hurlers' surprise exit from the championship. Walsh was due to hurl for Duhallow in last night's senior club championship against Blackrock. As there was no request to change the fixture it seems that the Cork management had decided he would not be part of the official squad from early in the week.
From here on, though, both are expected to be more involved in whatever lies ahead for Cork. They're still standing but the vulnerability is still there for everyone to see.
Scorers - Cork: C O'Neill 1-1 (0-1f), I Maguire 1-0, M Collins, P Kerrigan (1f) 0-2 each, J Loughrey, M Hurley, P Kelly, J O'Rourke 0-1. Longford: B Kavanagh 1-1 (1-0pen), R Smyth 0-2 (1f), D Masterson, J McGivney, M Quinn 0-1 each.
Cork: R Price; C O'Driscoll, E Cadogan, N Glavin; T Clancy, J Loughrey, B O'Driscoll; A O'Connor, I McGuire; M Collins, K O'Driscoll, D Goulding; M Hurley, P Kelleher, M Collins. Subs: S Powter for B O'Driscoll (36); P Kelly for K O'Driscoll (half time); C O'Neill for Goulding (h-t); J O'Rourke for Kelleher (58); R Deane for O'Connor (71); S Cronin for O'Neill (black card 73).
Longford: P Collum; D McElligott, B Gilleran, B O'Farrell; C Farrelly, M Quinn, B McKeon; M Brady, D Gallagher; D Masterson, J McGivney, D Brady; R Smyth, B Kavanagh, L Connerton. Subs: M Hughes for M Brady (inj, 45); P McGee for McKeon (54); D Reynolds for Connerton (63); B Farrell for Kavanagh (63); R Connor for Farrelly (65).
Referee: B Cassidy (Derry).
Sunday Indo Sport