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Surgery gives Cork new life

AFTER a weekend when the championship landscape was changed irrevocably by seismic shocks, this All-Ireland SFC quarter-final produced the expected result.

When Cormac Reilly brought proceedings to a halt, Cork had a cushion of nine points and a semi-final joust with Dublin to look forward to. Roscommon departed as gallant losers after a season still termed a success after they swept to a surprise Connacht title.

But while the result was widely forecast, the manner in which it was achieved was not. Cork struggled to stamp their authority on this game. Their first-half performance was strewn with errors and the initial stages of the second half unfolded in an anxious fashion.

Roscommon claimed three of the first four points after the break and when Michael Finneran kicked them 0-8 to 0-7 in front by the 41st minute, the primrose hordes who had travelled from the west dared to dream that their team were on the cusp of a momentous upset.

The outlook was never as promising for them again.

Cork welded their defence shut, and blotted out Roscommon’s attacking threat to the extent that the only scores they mustered for the remainder of the game was a pair of Donal Shine frees. Cork’s strength, power and experience finally showed all over the pitch.

That was largely a consequence of the surgery Conor Counihan performed at half-time when he took the scalpel to his starting 15. With his team listing badly, the Cork manager reasoned that it was time for experience rather than youth to bale them out of trouble.

It was the long-serving trio of John Miskella, Nicholas Murphy and Donncha O’Connor that were drafted into action, with three members of last year’s All-Ireland U21 winning side, Jamie O’Sullivan, Aidan Walsh and Colm O’Neill all benched. Miskella, Murphy and O’Connor have all battled ailments this season that have prohibited them from regular game time yet they had a profound influence on proceedings here. Miskella helped solidify the defence, O’Connor picked off three points but it was Murphy’s towering display that was most critical in enabling Cork gain control.

He wrestled back the initiative for Cork around the middle third and broke the dominance that Michael Finneran had been enjoying.

With plenty of ball being sourced for their attack, Cork soon strung together the scores to pull clear. Pearse O’Neill had a major role in dictating the tie in the last 20 minutes, while Daniel Goulding had an excellent afternoon at corner-forward. When Goulding curled over a 60th minute free, Cork had pulled 0-14 to 0-9 clear and the game was safe. Four minutes later they applied some gloss to the scoreline when O’Neill burst through to rifle the ball to the net after a great turnover of possession by Alan O’Connor. It was Cork’s solitary goal on the day, yet they spurned an array of green flag chances and when presented with a penalty in the 68th minute, Donncha O’Connor elected to tap the ball over the bar.

By the final whistle Cork had inserted serious daylight between the sides. But their satisfaction at delivering the right result masks a series of concerns. The finale was marked by the sight of Graham Canty limping off with a hamstring injury and Ciarán Sheehan hobbling off with an ankle complaint.

The fitness of both players will now be worries Counihan must contend with over the next three weeks.

The fact that Cork’s play carried serious deficiencies for 45 minutes is also bound to perturb Counihan. Cork’s football was very ragged in the opening spell as Roscommon’s ferocious workrate meant their opponents were frequently pinned back in their own half of the pitch. They found it extremely difficult to work the ball out of defence and move upfield, while Finneran and Karol Mannion ensured Roscommon had a stranglehold in the middle of the park. Despite moving 0-5 to 0-1 ahead by the 22nd minute when Paul Kerrigan pointed, Cork were hauled back before the break.

Shine and David O’Gara kicked some tremendous points as Roscommon were only 0-6 to 0-5 adrift at the interval.

Cork’s rate of improvement was impressive in the second half though. They never looked spooked when Roscommon went a point ahead and calmly went about the business of killing off the tie.

Roscommon lacked the depth on the bench to stay in contention, their twin threat of Shine and O’Gara was peripheral in the second half and ultimately they did not possess the quality to capitalise on Cork’s sluggish start.

The laboured manner of Cork’s early play clearly illustrated they were a team physically and mentally tired after recent weeks. Their exertions in the qualifiers looked to have taken a toll, particularly the gruelling extra-time victory over Limerick. After four consecutive weeks of action, they now have the opportunity to recuperate and that will benefit greatly ahead of a clash with Dublin on August 22.

CORK: A Quirke; R Carey, M Shields, J O’Sullivan; N O’Leary, G Canty (0-1), P Kissane; D Kavanagh, A Walsh; P Kelly, P O’Neill (1-2), P Kerrigan (0-2); D Goulding (0-6, 0-2f, 0-1 45), C Sheehan (0-2), C O’Neill.

Subs: J Miskella for O’Sullivan, N Murphy for Walsh, D O’Connor (0-3, 0-1 penalty) for C O’Neill (all half-time), A O’Connor for Kavanagh (52), E Cotter for Canty (58, injured)

ROSCOMMON: G Claffey; S McDermott, P Domican, S Ormsby; S Purcell, C Dineen, D Casey; M Finneran (0-1), K Mannion (0-1); D Keenan, D O’Gara (0-1), C Cregg; J Rogers (0-1), D Shine (0-5, 0-3f), G Heneghan (0-1).

Subs: C Garvey for Purcell (48), K Higgins for Rogers (52), E Kenny for Mannion (54), J Dunning for Cregg (62), J Nolan for Nolan (66)

Referee: J McKee (Armagh).