Drennan spot on as Saints show true grit in front of McCarthy
St Patrick's Athletic 1-0 Cork City
Mick McCarthy may not have spotted any instant recruits for his Republic of Ireland side from his first spying missing on the League of Ireland season in his second spell as national team manager, but he will have come away impressed with the steel shown by a St Patrick's Athletic side who opened the new season with a 1-0 win at home to Cork City, thanks to Mikey Drennan's first-half penalty.
The Liam Buckley-era Saints sides were known for their passing game but often lacked grit, yet Harry Kenny's new-look outfit, with six debutants last night including subs, looked like they knew how to put in a tackle, proof of that in the number of yellow cards handed out.
Prodigal son Chris Forrester, a player who was named in the Ireland squad once by McCarthy's predecessor but remains uncapped, had a relatively quiet night but those around him in the Saints midfield put in an impressive shift. Rhys McCabe and Conor Clifford rans things for the hosts, in a game watched by a healthy crowd of 3,479 as Cork were second best in most areas.
Cork's victory away to St Pat's on the opening day of last season kicked off a three-game winning streak but the balance of power seems to have shifted in the space of 12 months, the opening line-up for the Saints looking more powerful than John Caulfield's starting XI, and there was even a hiccup for City before a ball was kicked as Gearoid Morissey, having been named in the side, dropped out after suffering an injury in the warm-up and Kevin O'Connor was promoted from the bench.
Yet Cork began the game well, with chances falling to debutants James Tilley and Dan Casey in the first 10 minutes as it took the Saints time to find their feet.
They did just that and took the game to the away side, Cork needing a block from Shane Griffin on 11 minutes to keep out an Ian Bermingham volley.
Pats showed they had some steel about them, Conor Clifford and Jamie Lennon booked before half an hour had gone while Kevin Toner would later enter the referee's notebook.
Cork had four new faces in their side, including the returning Kevin O'Connor, but it was ex-UCD man Daire O'Connor who stood out, causing a series of problems on the wing, and his cross on 23 minutes set up Garry Buckley as Pats needed a stunning save from Brendan Clarke to deny Buckley.
The Saints had picked up cards for their tackling but it was a challenge from a Cork man which led to the opening goal, Shane McLoughlin penalised for his tackle in the box on Clifford and Drennan stepped up to take the penalty on 29 minutes.
Twelve months ago Cork looked impressive in the start of their title defence, winning their first three games, but City lacked verve and guile last night, unable to carve out much of note leaving front man Karl Sheppard a passenger for long spells.
Twice in the early stages of the second half they tried, Kevin O'Connor with a free kick on 58 minutes while Daire O'Connor came close on 73 minutes. But City didn't trouble Clarke all that much, the Saints netminder well protected.
Cork have also tried to warn fans in 2019 that it will be a challenge to keep pace with last season's double winners Dundalk and it will take time for their new men to bed in.
They certainly have work to do on last night's evidence and while Pats will be eager to quieten talk of a title run, the early evidence from Harry Kenny's new-look side is impressive. There will be more to come from the Saints once new the faces blend.
PAT'S - B Clarke; Webster, Toner, Desmond; Madden, Lennon, McCabe, Clifford, Bermingham (Coleman 96); Forrester (Shaw 67); Drennan (Miele 83).
CORK - McNulty; McCarthy, Casey, McLoughlin, Griffin; McCormack (Nash 76), Buckley; D O'Connor, K O'Connor (Comerford 71), Tilley (Cummins 61); Sheppard.
Ref - Neil Doyle
Coming Soon: Independent.ie's new GAA newsletter. Sign up here