Spirited Saints come back from dead to bring Inchicore to life
IT was a game that summed up St Patrick’s Athletic season. Chaotic, error strewn and packed with thrills and spills. But when it really mattered, they summoned up the character to deliver.
Liam Buckley’s charges have lived with the fear of relegation throughout this season. At full-time last night, it felt as though a weight had lifted from the shoulders of every attendee of a Saints persuasion.
When a second string Cork side went two ahead inside twenty minutes, the natives were looking for a pulse. A stirring comeback brought the stadium to life and gave the Saints the win that should preserve their Premier Division status.
Football isn’t always good for the health.
In better days, Friday nights like this were the norm at Richmond Park.
This venue heaved through the mid to late nineties and title wins under Brian Kerr, Pat Dolan and Buckley. One of the highlights of the latter’s first spell in charge was a Paul Osam winner against Cork in front of a record 7,000 crowd in 1999. But even the run of the mill games were lively affairs.
The Saints have struggled to recapture that mood in recent times, even during the success of Buckley’s second tenure; the league win in 2013 and FAI Cup success in 2014.
Attempts have belatedly been made to address the loss of connection with the community beyond the hardcore support that and there were hopes this game would bring back lapsed regulars but the appalling weather conditions in the hour up to kickoff complicated things and unquestionably hit numbers. But in the early minutes, supporters did start to flood into the previously uninhabited and exposed areas of the ground.
Huddled together on the Camac, they suffered torrential rain and a torrid opening which left the Saints on the brink.
They had applauded the new champions onto the pitch before kick-off and continued the warm welcome with some casual defending that gave the Leesiders the initiative. John Caulfield made eight changes from Tuesday’s draw with Derry and one of the trio that was retained, Shane Griffin, moved forward from full back to midfield.
But they looked more coherent than their hosts in the opening minutes with hesitancy from Saints keeper Lukas Skowron giving encouragement to the Leesiders. A fumble from the Pole resulted in the corner that gave Cork the lead with ponderous defending and first choice Cork centre half Ryan Delaney spinning to find the target.
The Saints were rocked and before they could recover, Kieran Sadlier added another. Cork’s summer signing from Sligo Rovers had already fired a warning shot narrowly over before he cut in again from the right, jinked away from Ian Bermingham and unleashed a stunning right footer from 25 yards that found the net via the inside of the post.
Pat’s were rattled and Buckley made a 21st minute sub with Paul O’Conor withdrawn and Kurtis Byrne introduced. This was sink or swim time for the Dubliners and the response was impressive.
Pressure forced a corner and Dutch centre half Jordi Balk shrugged off attentions to firmly dispatch a free header. Red shirts declined to celebrate and charged back to their own half to force a quick restart. They sensed the tide was turning with a young City back four displaying vulnerability.
The only senior player was Robbie Williams, a mid-season signing from Limerick who will be extremely lucky to have a League of Ireland win on his CV. He was withdrawn at half-time, but Saints had already restored parity by that juncture.
They played through the heart of the Cork rearguard with Ian Bermingham and Christy Fagan combining to tee up Billy Dennehy who turned Delaney and finished with his right foot.
Half-time checked the momentum. John Caulfield introduced Karl Sheppard as part of a reshuffle and Stephen Dooley soon followed. Skowron was failing to inspire confidence with his goalkeeping and Cork always sensed opportunity on the offensive.
But Cork had a soft centre without Alan Bennett and Conor McCormack and it was exposed in the Saints’ lead goal with the impressive Owen Garvan again relishing some free time in kicking off a sequence of passes that culminated with a poor touch from Griffin - now switched to right full - and a slick finish from the overlapping Bermingham.
Cork’s application was loose as they went in search of an equaliser and the Saints were tuned in. The enigmatic Dennehy scampered in from the left and sent a cross that Kurtis Byrne steered into the top corner to kick off a night of celebrations.
St Pat's Ath – Skowron, Barker, Balk, Desmond, Bermingham; Garvan (Lunney 90), Brennan; C Byrne (Turner 76), O’Conor (K Byrne 21), B Dennehy; Fagan
Cork City – Smith, McCarthy, Williams (Sheppard 45), Delaney, McLoughlin; Sadlier, Bolger, Keohane, Griffin; Campion (Morrissey 76), Ellis (Dooley 61)
ref – R Hennesy (Limerick)