THESE are the kind of tests that Cork need to pass if they are to go one better this year.
And, while this win was not without controversy, John Caulfield’s charges ultimately eased their way to a result that maintains their 100pc start to the new campaign.
It was a dramatic first half that delivered all the talking points.
The Drogheda post-mortem will centre on a 20th-minute decision from referee Derek Tomney just after former Ireland striker Stephen Elliott had cancelled out an early goal from the prolific Sean Maguire.
Tomney produced a straight red for a late challenge from home midfielder Richie Purdy on Steven Beattie. Replays suggested it was a harsh call, and the natives howled, but the match official was in no doubt.
The tackle was hardly out of keeping with the robust exchanges that were plentiful in the opening minutes.
Cork had bossed proceedings before Maguire – who played with strapping on his hamstring – outjumped Stephen Dunne to flick in a Gearoid Morrissey header for his fourth goal in as many games this term, if you include the President’s Cup as a competitive encounter.
But Pete Mahon’s Drogheda side came into this game buoyed by a pair of wins and Elliott got off the mark for his new employers with an instinctive flick to turn in a Ciaran McGuigan effort.
Drogheda dug in following Purdy’s dismissal and the Leesiders, who had a flawless defensive record to this point, did show some vulnerability at the back, with Alan Bennett and Ryan Delaney still getting to know each other. The sprightly Jake Hyland nearly capitalised.
However, Cork eventually regrouped and goals from corners either side of the interval removed suspense from the occasion.
The key strike came when Morrissey reacted quickest to a Beattie delivery to drill past Stephen McGuinness.
Five minutes after the restart, Karl Sheppard really seized his opportunity in the absence of Stephen Dooley to show perfect technique and execute a right-footer from a standing start when McGuinness punched the ball in his direction. It flew through a maze of bodies to find its destination.
That was game over, with Caulfield noticeably more relaxed on the sideline during the remainder of the second half in contrast with his Duracell bunny impression when Drogheda had earlier threatened an upset.
The decision to withdraw Maguire early to keep him in reserve for Monday’s date with Sligo Rovers at Turner’s Cross summed up the confidence on the away bench. And young sub Connor Ellis, a big hope for the future, erased memories of an earlier miss to put a gloss on the scoreline with an emphatic injury-time finish.
Drogheda United – McGuinness, Deasy, Gallagher (Buckley 61), McGuigan, Dunne; Purdy; Byrne (Elworthy 55), Thornton, Hyland, G Brennan; Elliott
Cork City – McNulty, McCormack, Bennett, Delaney, O’Connor (Griffin 81); Bolger, Morrissey (Ellis 77); Beattie, Buckley, Sheppard; Maguire (Campion 55)
Ref – D Tomney (Dublin)