Cork 1-21 Offaly 1-14
A WINNING start in Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday for new Cork manager Gerald McCarthy in the 2007 National Hurling League, but in fairness to a game young Offaly side, the final margin of seven points was just a little flattering.
While Cork never looked like losing and were always in control except for a shaky start which saw Offaly’s Joe Bergin and Cathal Parlon opening the scoring, they never really pressed home their advantage. Had it not been for a couple of superb saves by keeper Donal Óg Cusack, there might even have seen an upset.
"We had to fight hard for it," admitted McCarthy, "Offaly never gave up. We went several points ahead several times, it looked like we could stretch our lead, but they kept fighting away, very dogged. For a young team, I’m sure they’ll be very happy with that, the way they fought to the very end. Seven points in it at the end, but we were lucky to have it at that."
On McCarthy’s appointment as Cork manager there was much speculation that the running style of the last few years would be replaced by the traditional direct ball favoured during his own playing years. While there was a hint of it yesterday — with plenty of early long deliveries to the corners — there was never-the-less little change to what Cork fans have become used to in recent years: one goal, a scrambled effort in the 20th minute claimed by debutant Eoghan Murphy, and a very typical 21 points.
However, there was much for the home fans in the 5,000-plus crowd to feel happy about.
After a shaky start the Cork defence settled in well, conceding just four more points before the break. Wayne Sherlock and Brian Murphy were in total control in the corners, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín got to grips with a very tricky and pacy opponent in Eddie Bevans while Ronan Curran was regal in the centre.
With Kenny and Murphy winning the midfield battle comprehensively, it meant there was a steady supply of ball to the forwards, and the scores started to come. Points from four of the five forwards, from Niall (2) and Timmy McCarthy, Diarmuid O’Sullivan and Joe Deane, with Eoghan Murphy adding that scrambled goal, all contributed to the 1-10 to 0-6 half-time lead for Cork.
The only forward not to score was right winger Pa Cronin, but the Bishopstown youngster – another league debutant – was very impressive in open play and excellent under the dropping ball. With Timmy McCarthy equally effective on the other wing, it meant Cork had several ball-winning options for Cusack’s puck-outs.
Up front, manager McCarthy continued with the experiment of converting Diarmuid O’Sullivan from an All-Star full-back to full-forward. Apart from confirming the fact that the burly O’Sullivan is a fine ball-player, however, nothing could be read into this performance. The Cloyne man scored a fine point and set up several scores but the view that Cork are robbing Peter to pay Paul has yet to be invalidated.
The second half saw Offaly begin to make an impression in the game, especially in the first three minutes. "They’re a precocious side. Seven players out there wearing the Offaly jersey for the first time, nine U-21’s," said manager John McIntyre.
Corner-forward Shane Dooley — son of the great Joe — began the second half fight-back, a super point from wide right; seconds later Gary Hanniffy added another, and when big Derek Molloy, operating at full-forward, sent a searing shot across Cusack to the Cork net, the gauntlet was well and truly thrown down.
With two points in it, 1-10 to 1-8, Cork responded well, outscoring Offaly six points to one over the following 15 minutes. A fine brace by Joe Deane warmly received by the home support and a well-taken point by substitute Neil Ronan after a strong 40m solo made it 1-16 to 1-9 entering the final quarter.
That should have been the signal for the visitors to concede defeat, but instead, points from Joe Bergin (3), one each from Dooley and team captain Rory Hanniffy, against two from placed balls by Neil Ronan, had Offaly back within four points of Cork (1-18 to 1-14) with several minutes still to play. Had it not been for a breath-taking save by Cusack from a fine Gary Hanniffy shot, it would have been down to a single point.
Once again, however, the Rebels responded: two superb long-range strikes from captain Kieran Murphy saw them on their way.
A good day for Cork, for new manager Gerald McCarthy but a not entirely bad day for John McIntyre’s Offaly. "Cork’s goal was avoidable," said McIntyre afterwards, "Cusack made a few great saves, we didn’t get many breaks on the day, but we kept at them. It’s small steps for Offaly, we’re not looking for the sun, the moon and the stars in one go. You’re never happy when you’re beaten, but we’re reasonably content with what happened."
Scorers for Cork: K Murphy 0-5 (0-1 free 0-1 65); E. Murphy 1-1; N. Ronan 0-4 (0-3 frees); J. Deane 0-3 (0-1 free); N. McCarthy 0-3; T. Kenny 0-3; T. McCarthy, D. O’Sullivan, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Offaly: J. Bergin 0-7 (0-5 frees 0-1 65); D. Molloy 1-1; S. Dooley 0-2; C. Parlon, E. Bevans, R. Hanniffy, G. Hanniffy, 0-1 each.
CORK: D. Óg Cusack; W. Sherlock, C. O’Connor, B. Murphy; G. Callinan, R. Curran, S. Óg Ó hAilpín; T. Kenny, K. Murphy (Erin’s Own, c); P. Cronin, N. McCarthy, T. McCarthy; E. Murphy, D. O’Sullivan, J. Deane.
Subs: K. Hartnett (Callanan 41); N. Ronan 0-4 (0-3 frees); P. O’Sullivan (Deane 57); K. Canty (N. McCarthy 70). Blood sub: C. Naughton (D. O’Sullivan 58/65).
OFFALY: S. O’Connor; C. Hernon, P. Cleary, M. Verney; C. Horan, D. Hoctor, D. Kenny; B. Teehan, G. Hanniffy; E. Bevans, R. Hanniffy (c), D. Molloy; S. Dooley, J. Bergin, C. Parlon.
Subs: B. Murphy (Parlon 46); J. Rigney (Horan 47); B. Carroll (Teehan 50).
Referee: M. Wadding (Waterford).