IT WAS windy, it was rainy and the game itself was often scrappy but, in the final analysis, quality still told at the RDS, as a superb second half goal from Denis Behan gave Cork City victory in the FAI Ford Cup final against Longford Town before a crowd of 10,000.
European and Setanta Cup football now beckons for the Leesiders, while battling Longford must face life in the second tier without even the consolation of a cup final upset to ease their pain.
On a day when off-the-pitch controversy threatened to overshadow the game itself, it is important to acknowledge the moment when pure footballing class made its indelible mark on the occasion. It came just short of the hour mark, when Dan Murray sent John O’Flynn racing away on the left and, from his pinpoint cross, Denis Behan decided the contest with a spectacular diving header
It was Behan’s fifth goal in the cup and further confirmation of his emergence as a lethal hitman for City in the absence of Roy O’ Donovan. And the goal was no more than City deserved for a dominant second-half performance in which Behan and O’Flynn were also denied by the woodwork.
But for the first 30 minutes of the game, things had looked very different as Longford confounded their underdogs tag with a wholly-committed performance backed by a strong wind. With ace marksman Dave Mooney and Dessie Baker linking up well, all the early pressure came from Longford as Cork, with Colin Healy failing to exert his usual stylish influence in the middle of the pitch, struggled to bring any semblance of their customarily fluent passing game into play.
And they had Michael Devine to thank for keeping them in it in the 15th minute, when he reacted quickly to keep out a Jamie Duffy effort.
Indeed, a full half hour had elapsed before Cork managed their first serious threat on goal, and that only came after a mix-up in the Longford defence had gifted them possession. As it transpired, neither Behan nor Liam Kearney could avail of the double chance, but at least the team’s presence in the final third at last gave the Rebel Army massed at the Anglesea Road end something to cheer about.
And as the Leesiders began to get a decent foothold in the game, there were growing signs that Longford might be made to pay for failing to turn their initial superiority into something tangible on the scoreboard.
And so it proved in a second half in which Cork had the wind at their backs in every sense. Almost from the restart, the veteran Billy Woods — who put in a terrific hour’s work until forced out through injury — came close with a curling free kick into the box which eluded everyone and slipped just wide of the far post.
Dan Murray, simply outstanding for City throughout, posted further warnings for Longford by finding Liam Kearney in space on the left on a couple of occasions, and it was the same well-judged ball from the skipper, this time for John O’ Flynn, which began the move which ended with Behan’s flying header to the back of the net.
More industrious than inventive in the first half, Joe Gamble now began to make a telling contribution with well-timed passes designed to exploit Longford’s attempts at pushing up. First he found Leon McSweeney speedily overlapping on the right and, after his low cross was deflected to Denis Behan’s feet, the striker had time to steady himself in front of a gaping goal, only to see his shot crash back off the crossbar. That was in the 80th minute and three minutes later Gamble was at it again, orchestrating the move which ended with O’Flynn also hitting the bar, this time from Kearney’s cross.
The reprieves gave Longford hope that the game could still be salvaged, but it was well and truly up for them three minutes from the end of normal time when Pat Sullivan, already on a yellow card, was sent off after a hefty challenge on Leon McSweeney.
It was an unfortunate postscript to a difficult season for Longford in which Alan Mathews and his team were admirable in their efforts to overturn a points deficit and retain their Premier Division status. But just as they failed at the death in the league so they fell short in the very last game of the domestic calendar yesterday, as Cork City deservedly celebrated their second FAI Cup triumph and, as promised, finally made amends for that disappointing defeat by Drogheda two years ago.
But barely had the final whistle blown than attention turned to the fate of manager Damien Richardson, as controversy and confusion mingled with the champagne and cheers.