A SECOND-HALF scoring burstput Cork in an unassailable position in this Division 1 NHL clash with Offaly in Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday.
The sides were level at half- time but the Leesiders’ accuracy in the first ten minutes of the second-half, scoring five points to Offaly’s one, gave them a lead they never relinquished.
Offaly manager Joe Dooley admitted as much after the game: "It was disappointing in the end but Cork overran us in the second-half, they were very strong.
"They probably had their strongest team out in the end, they’re household names. I’m proud of my lads and we can take positives from the game, but it’s still disappointing to lose."
His Cork counterpart Denis Walsh agreed that the second-half was the period when his players did the damage.
"We dropped the tempo in the first half for maybe ten minutes, but in the second-half I thought we showed what we could do.
"If we could maintain the tempo we showed there, we could trouble anyone. We asked the lads to transfer their fitness and their hurling into 70 minutes, and we certainly did that in the second-half for 30 minutes."
Both sides needed time to settle in the first-half, with most players’ touch showing a little rust. Aisake O hAilpín shone early for Cork, winning three frees which Patrick Horgan converted, while Joe Bergin mirrored his industry up front for Offaly.
Early on, the game became a shoot-out between free-takers – Horgan of Cork and Joe Dooley of Offaly. Two classy efforts from play from Horgan nudged Cork towards a three-point half-time lead, but Dooley, unerring, rattled over three frees in the last five minutes of the half to see them go into the dressing-rooms level on nine points apiece.
The closest either side came to a goal chance was a fine Conor Mahon shot, which Donal Óg Cusack saved well.
Cork were slow out of the dressing-rooms for the second-half, but they motored as soon as they were back on the field. Kieran Murphy, Horgan (two), Mark O’Sullivan and Niall McCarthy all pointed, with Offaly only having a Dooley free to show for their efforts.
"We had a chance of a goal and then we missed a handy point. Cork took a quick puck-out and went down and got the goal. That was the turning point, and it finished the game," the Offaly boss admitted.
And he was right. Shane Dooley’s snappy first-time pull yielded a goal that brought Offaly within two points of Cork, 1-10 to 0-15 on 55 minutes, but when John Gardiner delivered a long ball into the Offaly square three minutes later, Aisake O hAilpín showed a nice touch to flick home when the chance seemed gone. Cork went on to close the game out with points from Horgan, Murphy and Gardiner – and from sub Michael Cussen, who impressed when brought on.
Headline writers will relish the opportunity for ‘Twin Towers’ puns, but Cussen operated in the half-forward line, with fellow skyscraper Aisake O hAilpín on the edge of the square. On yesterday’s evidence the two men, each of them 6’ 7", look like they can be accommodated in the one team, if not in the same line on the field.
"Cork will take some beating this year," said Dooley at the finish. "We held our own in the first-half and if we’d gotten a goal in the first-half... but it’s all about the second-half. That’s the half that matters."
Walsh was frank at the final whistle: "The game was like the championship game last year," he said. "The scoreline probably flattered us a bit. Offaly more than held their own and were quite dangerous. The goal we got pulled us away a little bit. Now we have another game in six days and we’re focused on that, and on getting two points. After that there’s a bit of a break, and then we have the Kilkenny game."
Cork face Limerick next week, but nobody is putting the visit of the All-Ireland champions out of their minds.
Scorers for Cork: P Horgan 0-9 (5f), K Murphy 0-5, J Gardiner 0-4 (3f), A O hAilpín 1-0, N McCarthy 0-2, M O’Sullivan & M Cussen 0-1 each.
Scorers for Offaly: S Dooley 1-8 (6f, 1’65’), B Carroll, C Mahon & C Parlon 0-1 each.
Subs for Cork: E Cadogan for Cunningham (ht), C McCarthy for O’Sullivan 50; M Cussen for N McCarthy 62; F O’Leary for McLoughin 64; R Ryan for S Óg O hAilpín 69.
Subs for Offaly: K Brady for Oakley 40, D Currams for Parlon 58, Molloy for Carroll 65.
Referee: M Wadding (Waterford).