Dramatic finish sees champions Cork get off to winning start against St Pat's
St Patrick's Athletic 2 Cork City 3
THERE was a moment in the second half last night when a manic run down the sideline by John Caulfield drew a smile from the watching Martin O’Neill.
The Ireland boss knows the feeling, the extremes of emotion that a game can bring. Caulfield lives them all and has moulded a Cork side in his personality
In adversity, they shine and they somehow managed to open their title defence with a win despite playing over an hour with ten men at Richmond Park.
That’s only half the story as they were two ahead when Graham Cummins was dismissed, and managed to give away that flattering lead in an extremely patchy spell.
But when the going got tough, Cork got going and they rallied to emerge from under the cosh to execute a spectacular smash and grab when an 82nd-minute Kieran Sadlier corner negotiated its way through a maze of bodies and over Saints ’keeper Barry Murphy to nestle into the net.
That, as the Cork fans sang on more than one occasion, is why they are champions.
Few of the rowdy travelling party could have envisaged such an eventful start to their competitive year, especially when they opened up a clear lead inside 11 minutes.
Bizarrely enough, the Saints found themselves trailing despite having started the game positively and forcing a pair of fine saves from Mark McNulty in that time-frame.
The Leesiders broke clinically to go ahead courtesy of fine link-up play featuring two winter recruits with a Cummins cross dispatched by a precise first-time volley from Barry McNamee.
The second was more about Saints indecision with a fine right-footer from Cummins finding its way past Murphy after ponderous defending from Kevin Toner and Lee Desmond.
That gave Cork a cushion and, in truth, it felt as though it could be game over already as the champions absorbed pressure and allowed Pat’s to have the ball for long spells without ever appearing vulnerable.
It did help that the absence of Christy Fagan meant that the Saints’ starting striker was Ian Turner, a Cork lad better known as a full-back or winger. Killian Brennan and Owen Garvan were sharp in possession, but Liam Buckley’s men needed inspiration from somewhere.
In the end, it came from a 25th-minute collision between Cummins and Toner that left the former Aston Villa defender in a heap and the Camac crying foul. Ref Rob Harvey adjudged that an elbow was used and sent Cummins off. Suddenly, Cork were in a spot of bother.
And the floating fans that swelled the average Inchicore attendance had a reason to brave the elements for the duration.
They halved the deficit when a Conan Byrne corner was swept into his own net by Aaron Barry with Ian Bermingham lingering nearby.
And, while Cork pressed Karl Sheppard on and had their moments on the counter-attack, the activity was now focused around their half of the pitch.
Half-time should have given them an opportunity to regroup. Instead, they gave away their advantage within a minute in a manner that could not be attributed to the numerical disadvantage. Jimmy Keohane flapped at a routine cross and Byrne’s left-footer found a route beyond McNulty. The Saints sensed opportunity.
Garvan and Brennan floated around like quarterbacks, with centre-halves Toner and Desmond pushed on for spells too.
Turner worked hard, but it was inevitable he would be replaced by new signing Jake Keegan with the Saints in need of a poacher to capitalise on their dominance.
Cork dug in from that point onwards, though, with the introduction of the industrious Gearóid Morrissey giving them extra energy and bite in the centre of the park. Sheppard worked hard and the Saints attack lost its impetus.
Granted, they did create an outstanding opportunity to go ahead with Keegan denied by a brilliant block by left full Shane Griffin, with a pat on the back from Alan Bennett endorsing the importance. At that juncture, a point looked set to be a respectable return.
But there was one more twist lingering in the tale to send the vocal travelling support home with that familiar winning feeling.
St Patrick’s Athletic – Murphy, Madden, Toner, Desmond, Bermingham; Garvan, Brennan, Byrne, Kelly (Markey 65), Clarke (Doona 78); Turner (Keegan 65).
Cork City – McNulty, Beattie, Bennett, Barry, Griffin; McCormack, Keohane (Morrissey 65); Sheppard,
McNamee, Sadlier; Cummins.
Ref – R Harvey (Dublin)