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Rebels survive late drama as Faithful depart

THE end rather sneaked up on us here in an odd, head-scratching sort of way. Five minutes left. Cork, gradually squeezing the life out of Offaly, are five points clear, comfortably in command, finishing the job with an air of quiet efficiency and professionalism.

In the end Donal Og Cusack was picking a Shane Dooley '65' out of his net and Cork's lead had been whittled down to a point. Where on earth had the drama come from?

It wasn't enough to save Offaly. With only a minute of added time, they needed to win Cusack's puck-out but they hadn't been winning enough ball all day and the odds still favoured Cork. Ben O'Connor had a chance to push the Rebels two clear but missed one he'd normally have nailed. Any thoughts of a reprieve for Offaly were quickly snuffed out, though, when Johnny Ryan called for the ball. A one-point game. It just didn't feel like it.

On this evidence Cork, so obviously in transition, might not be as far down the evolutionary road as they reckoned. Even if the late drama had a false ring to it, there was a looseness and lack of intensity to the encounter that you thought they might have pounced upon, as they had done in the previous round when smashing 10 goals against a sorry Laois. They had shaken James Dempsey's net twice by the eighth minute here. At that stage another flurry seemed likely.

But they never really sustained a consistent tempo. They played well in patches. Their best players performed in fits and starts. Ben O'Connor had a solid first half but was quiet thereafter. Paudie O'Sullivan was quiet early on but grew into the game as it wore on. Jerry O'Connor's influence gradually wore off too. Only Patrick Horgan, perhaps, maintained his level all through, though seven of his 10 points came in the second half.

They had started with some intent. Within a minute, Horgan had easily turned Chris McDonald on the left and set off menacingly towards the Offaly goal. Just as he was about to unleash his drive, however, David Kenny brilliantly stole in to snuff out his shot. In truth, though, it was a false indicator of the intensity Offaly would bring in front of a crowd of 7,569. There was a softness and openness to the exchanges and that suited Cork.

Both of Cork's goals were aesthetically pleasing but too softly conceded. The first came when a John Gardiner free was batted down and, after one bounce, it sat up nicely for Cian McCarthy to flash it to the net. The next arrived from a fine, flowing move through their full-forward line, ending with O'Sullivan picking out Luke O'Farrell, who gave Dempsey little chance of stopping his shot.

Offaly were just about keeping touch. They had answered Cork's firepower with a goal of their own when Colin Egan capitalised on a fine run from Dooley, who picked him out on the edge of the square. They were competitive up to around the half-hour mark. Egan struck them in front after 10 minutes and they stayed toe-to-toe with Cork for most of the half.

The problem was Offaly had played with the aid of a fresh breeze and didn't play with any sense of conviction that they could cause an upset.

After 20 minutes they had the benefit of an extra man after Pa Cronin received a straight red for striking Conor Mahon with his hurl, a flash of temper that was totally at odds with the sedate nature of the game and for which the Cork forward will likely pay a heavy penalty.

Yet Offaly made little use of the extra man. Slowly, they had the life sucked out of them. They had enough ball and enough chances to at least have put it up to Cork in the first half, but made themselves look ordinary in the use they made of possession.

They had nine wides with the breeze behind them and it was the nature of them that was alarming. Three came from Dooley, who contributed 1-9 but still had a topsy-turvy day, more an indication, perhaps, of the extent of Offaly's reliance on him.

They had two clear-cut goal chances in the dying embers of the half, but Egan's rocket came back off the cross-bar and Cusack managed to get a stick to Dooley's effort moments later. It looked grim for them at that point, but for all Cork's domination in the second half and flurries of fine score-taking they were still grateful for the shrill sound of Ryan's whistle at the death.

Strange game really. Nothing, you would say, to frighten any of those with All-Ireland ambitions.

Scorers -- Cork: P Horgan 0-10 (5f), C McCarthy, L O'Farrell 1-0 each, J O'Connor, B O'Connor 0-2 each, S O'Neill, P O'Sullivan, T Kenny 0-1 each. Offaly: S Dooley 1-9 (7f), D Currams 0-5, C Egan 1-0, J Bergin, C Mahon 0-1 each.

Cork: D Og Cusack; S McDonnell, E Cadogan, B Murphy; J Gardiner; W Egan, S O'Neill; J O'Connor, P Cronin; B O'Connor, C McCarthy, N McCarthy; L O'Farrell, P O'Sullivan, P Horgan. Subs: R Curran for Egan (53), T Kenny for N McCarthy (57), C Naughton for O'Farrell (57), B Cooper for C McCarthy (61).

Offaly: J Dempsey; C McDonald, D Kenny, S Egan; D Hayden, R Hanniffy, D Morkan; D Currams, C Egan; B Carroll, J Bergin, C Mahon; S Dooley, G Healion, J Mulrooney. Subs: B Murphy for S Egan (13), C Parlon for Mulrooney (47), J Brady for Murphy (65), T Carroll for Healion (67).

Referee: J Ryan (Tipperary).

Sunday Indo Sport