True grit from Rebels extends home comforts
Cork 1-15 Dublin 0-16
One of the cornerstones of what Dublin achieved in much of last year's league and championship was the impetus they got from their bench.
At one stage the scoring return from replacements introduced was running at over 20pc. But for once the cavalry charge appeared to have the opposite effect here as a Jim Gavin-managed Dublin team lost an opening-round league match for the first time.
The reigning champions introduced three substitutes between the 54th and 57th minutes and appeared to lose momentum with the withdrawal of Jonny Cooper, Shane Carthy and Cormac Costello.
Maybe that disguises the depth of grit that Cork showed before a 4,245 crowd to preserve a home record against Dublin that stretches all the way back to 1990 now.
If manager Brian Cuthbert or anyone associated with this team had been feeling a little uneasy in the aftermath of their McGrath Cup final defeat to Waterford this will restore more than a little calm and order.
The spirit shown to hang in first and then push on will hearten them as they prepare for four trips to play Ulster opposition in Division 1 over the next nine weeks.
Talk of relegation "suits us fine", shrugged manager Brian Cuthbert afterwards, a tiny hint of defiance in his voice. "People say what they want. It doesn't really bother the team or me. It's news to me if this Cork team is relegation fodder," he added before pointedly affirming the character in his dressing-room.
"We have a very good bunch there today, unbelievably committed, loyal men. They have been through thick and thin in the last couple of months."
The thin amounted to a McGrath Cup semi-final defeat to Waterford two weeks ago that spooked the Cork football public after a poor 2014 championship. But Cuthbert was quick to play down any significance attached to that result.
"I wouldn't take any notice of it. If you take a look at the teams we put out, today we only started four players who played against Waterford. That's no slight on the players that played, it was just a very bad performance," he said.
"Tyrone won the McKenna Cup and last night (Saturday) they were beaten well by Monaghan. If you asked any of the players in there I'd say Waterford is a distant memory."
The honesty and commitment they showed was commendable, coming from 0-15 to 1-10 behind on 55 minutes to outscore the visitors by 0-5 to 0-1 in the closing period. They took control of midfield after the withdrawal of Denis Bastick first and then Carthy.
Ian Maguire, a player Cuthbert predicts will be a "mainstay" of Cork football in future years, came strong, while Fintan Goold's second-half posting to centre-back also had a desired effect.
But it was the general application of players like Conor Dorman, Eoin Cadogan, John O'Rourke and Mark Collins that got them in front.
"Right through the game we played decent football. The team knew that they had to win," emphasised Cuthbert.
Gavin has guided Dublin to the last two league titles but it's a competition he no longer feels has a place on the GAA calendar.
Clearly the emphasis on winning matches is not as heavy as it has been in his previous two years, with just five starters from last year's All-Ireland semi-final team and a number of established players directed to play with their clubs this weekend rather than make the journey south. The desire to 'road test' more players, even if it prevents momentum, is obvious.
"We've got a squad of players and they need to be given game-time, to experience what the elite level football is about," he said.
Five players - among them last year's All-IrelandU-21 final man of the match Conor McHugh, who came on as a substitute - were playing league football for the first time.
Difficult underfoot conditions in Pairc Ui Rinn made for plenty of mistakes but there was some dynamic bursts of football too from both sides.
Cork's insurance point in injury-time, after substitute Mick Deegan had reduced the gap to the minimum, was among the best.
Dorman, a late call up for Fermoy's Tomas Clancy, caught one of the few kick-outs on either side to cross the 45 metre line and linked twice with Paul Kerrigan and Kevin O'Driscoll before nudging over his second point.
Dublin can point to some great scores too, none better than their equaliser on 41 minutes (1-7 to 0-10) when Jack McCaffrey, looking at times like he was back to some of his 2013 form, was involved in the approach play as Dean Rock set up Eoghan O'Gara.
Rock finished with eight points, (four frees) as he again made a strong claim for more permanent inclusion.
Cork led by 1-7 to 0-9 at the break, thanks to Jamie O'Sullivan's scrambled goal in the 11th minute after Dorman was initially blocked.
Dublin had momentum through O'Gara and Rock (twice), but there were shades of the profligacy of the Donegal semi-final last year when Cadogan was put under pressure on 43 minutes as he went to gather a Ken O'Halloran kick-out, giving Eoghan O'Gara a great goal opportunity.
O'Gara sought Cormac Costello outside him, however, and O'Halloran was able to scramble an interception. A goal would have put them five points clear.
Cork were able to get both Colm O'Neill and Brian Hurley more into the game as it progressed and that helped.
Cuthbert felt satisfaction at the manner of victory, saying: "When Dublin came at us in the start of the second half it could have been a three or four point win for them maybe and we could be disillusioned, the fact they came down minus a lot of players and got victory. The last 20 minutes, I felt we were in complete control of the game."
Man of the match: Conor Dorman
Scorers - Cork: C O'Neill 0-5 (4fs), J O'Sullivan 1-0, B Hurley 0-3 (1f), C Dorman, J O'Rourke 0-2 each, M Collins, F Goold, E Cadogan 0-1 each. Dublin - D Rock 0-8 (4fs), K McManamon, E O'Gara 0-2 each, T Brady, C Costello, M Deegan, S Carthy all 0-1 each.
Cork - K O'Halloran 7; T Clancy (Clonakilty) 7, E Cadogan 8, J Loughrey 6; C Dorman 8, B O'Driscoll 7, J O'Sullivan 6; F Goold 7, I Maguire 8; M Collins 8, J O'Rourke 7, C O'Driscoll 7; C O'Neill 7, D Og Hodnett 6, B Hurley 7. Subs: P Kerrigan 7 for O'Sullivan (ht), J Hayes 6 for Hodnett (46), L Connolly for C O'Driscoll (66), K O'Driscoll for Maguire (68).
Dublin - S Currie 7; E Culligan 7, R O'Carroll 7, D Daly 7; J McCaffrey 8, J Small 6, J Cooper 7; D Bastick 5, S Carthy 7; T Brady 7, D Rock 8, E O Conghaile 5; K McManamon 7, E O'Gara 7, C Costello 6. Subs: D Byrne 6 (Ballymun) for O Conghaile (ht), B Fenton 5 for Bastick (46), C Reddin 6 for Carthy (54), E Lowndes 5 for Cooper (57), C McHugh 5 for Costello (57), M Deegan for O'Gara (68).
Ref - R Hickey (Clare)