Garry Buckley hits winner as Cork hang on to keep double ambitions alive
AT full-time, relief hung in the air around Turner’s Cross. This was a close-run success.
For the third year in a row, Cork City will descend on the Aviva Stadium on the first Sunday in November. For the first time, they will do so in search of a domestic double.
John Caulfield’s charges will have to play better than this to achieve that ambition, though, with an improving Limerick operation showing that victory in their league meeting seven days earlier was no fluke. New boss Neil McDonald is finally getting a response from this group.
The reaction from the away section in the aftermath told its own story. They hailed a squad that had threatened to upset the odds again; this did not have the appearance of a game between two protagonists that are separated by 36 points in the league table.
That success was built on two early goals whereas the reason for this defeat was a tardy start. The margins were finer than the position in the league table suggests and, on this evidence, the Shannonsiders should be capable of getting the points they need to avoid the trapdoor.
Cork had kicked off with purpose, determined to get over the disappointment of the late concession against Dundalk on Monday night that delayed their league title party. They initially grabbed control of this game and were full value for their opening goal in the fifteenth minute.
The key man for Cork in this phase was attacking midfielder Garry Buckley who kept picking up positions in the box that slipped the attention of Limerick pursuers.
He had already scooped a sitter over the bar before he broke the deadlock, with Buckley’s anticipation leaving him in the right place to meet Kieran Sadlier’s chip across the area and send it past Brendan Clarke. At that stage, the fear was that the evening would descend into anti-climax.
But Limerick had other ideas and once they tightened things up in the centre of the park and fixed the GPS setting on Buckley, they began to pose problems of their own.
The target was always the speedy Chiedozie Ogbene, the winter acquisition from Cork that had caused his old employers plenty of problems at Market’s Field last Friday.
Ogbene, a raw sub for Cork in last year’s final at the Aviva, has improved considerably in the intervening period. Caulfield tasked youngster Conor McCarthy with the job of shackling his old colleague but Ogbene’s pace was a constant threat.
With Frenchman Bastian Hery composed in midfield and Rodrigo Tosi’s hold-up play bringing others into the game, Cork suffered in the run-up to half-time and Caulfield was angry.
He exchanged cross words with recent recruit Sadlier over his positioning and there was a nice bit of needle between the benches too.
Ogbene came close to levelling things before the interval with Mark McNulty clambering to keep the ball out and when the whistle blew, Neil McDonald gestured towards the away supporters and urged them to lift the volume levels even further. The locals were subdued by comparison, anxious rather than excited by their position.
And nerves were frayed again from the restart with Tosi heading narrowly over following a cross from Hery who executed all of his work with a swagger throughout. By that juncture, Caulfield had already replaced Stephen Dooley with Jimmy Keohane.
The intensity that was present throughout the Dundalk game was lacking. Perhaps the effort had taken its toll. But Cork did eventually overcome that rocky patch to get themselves into a second-half position where they challenged blue shirts to really prise them open.
McCarthy was smarter in terms of keeping tabs on Ogbene with Limerick’s danger man unable to get in behind and McDonald mixed things up by switching him from left to right as part of a reshuffle.
Caulfield duly moved McCarthy to that side as part of his own reshuffle with Cork very mindful of the one that inexplicably got away.
McDonald emptied his bench in search of a lucrative replay with Hungarian Peter Berki and former City favourite John O’Flynn summoned. The applause for his arrival contrasted dramatically with the jeers for Ogbene.
But apprehension coloured the soundtrack in the dying minutes with the nervous concession of a corner provoking a goalmouth scramble with Hery’s header cleared off the line by a combination of McNulty and sub Steven Beattie.
O’Flynn was then blocked in the box but Limerick otherwise struggled to find space in general play with the experience of Alan Bennett and Conor McCormack in the spine of the Cork side helping them to see it out.
The last act was another dead ball that flew over the head of a packed box which included Limerick ’keeper Brendan Clarke. Cork could breathe and dream of better days.
Cork City – McNulty, McCarthy, Delaney, Bennett, Griffin; McCormack, Morrissey; Sadlier (Beattie 80), Buckley, Dooley (Keohane 53); Sheppard (Campion 90)
Limerick – B Clarke, D Clarke, O’Connor, Whitehead, Tracy; Hery; Kenny (Berki 70), Lynch (O’Flynn 83), Duggan, Ogbene; Tosi
Ref – R Matthews (Westmeath)