THEY may not have attained the heights when they crushed Donegal at the same stage last year, but considering the drama over the weekend all that mattered for Cork in yesterday’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Roscommon was getting the job done.
They may not have been hugely impressive, but I never felt Cork were in danger of exiting the championship.
The turning point was the goal chance Roscommon had early in the second-half. It was an excellent save by Alan Quirke and seemed to spur Cork on. Even if the ball had ended up back in the net, I don’t think the result would have changed, but it would have been a rocky and nervous road to victory for Cork.
Trekking around the country in the qualifiers for the last three weeks definitely contributed to their raw and cumbersome display in the first-half. But this game once more illustrated how having a sizeable panel meant Cork were able to turn things around. Conor Counihan deserves credit for showing a ruthless streak in making those substitutions at the break. He has consistently showed all year that he is not afraid to make the hard calls and just like against Limerick, it was those changes that turned the game.
Nicholas Murphy came on and gained clean possession for Cork, Donncha O’Connor took his scores in attack and John Miskella ensured Cork took the game to their opponents.
The defensive repositioning of Michael Shields and Graham Canty also benefited both, and there were big second-half performances from Pearse O’Neill and Daniel Goulding.
Cork just wore Roscommon down as the half progressed. Indeed that final winning margin could well have been increased given the amount of goal chances Cork created. I felt there were a few occasions where players pondered too much on the ball in attack and it cost them goals, but it was still a major positive that they threatened to raise more green flags.
The only cloud on the horizon in the last quarter was the sight of Graham Canty falling to the ground, clutching his hamstring near the Davin End. It must be a big worry now as to whether he will be available for the Dublin match. But at least Cork have the time to try to get him right with a three-week gap. I reckon there will be a huge effort as well to ensure Eoin Cadogan is on the team bus on August 22.
There’s no hiding from the reality that Cork are now the favourites to win the All-Ireland after the chain of results over the weekend. They’re going to be heavily billed but unlike Cork teams in the past, I believe this group are equipped to cope with that extra pressure.
They’ll be cautious about heading up to a packed Croke Park for the All-Ireland semi-final to take on a Dublin team who have a serious chance. I thought Dublin were very impressive in their quarter-final on Saturday.
I did feel that they would beat Tyrone though beforehand as I saw no evidence that the Ulster men had re-energised their side this season. They looked stale 12 months ago when defeated by Cork yet Mickey Harte still went back looking to the same old warriors for inspiration this year.
They could be headed for a period of transition and certainly Kerry could be destined for a similar fate. There’ll be more talk of retirements over the winter, and against Down on Saturday it was illustrated that no team can cope with losing so many key figures from their starting 15.
With the two dominant forces of the last few years gone out of the equation, Cork will be well aware that a huge opportunity now exists to claim Sam Maguire.
But Pat Gilroy, Kieran McGeeney and James McCartan will be thinking along similar lines to Conor Counihan.
Certainly Cork have not replicated the stunning form they displayed around this time last season. Yet they’re still competing and are in an All-Ireland semi-final. There’s a lot of teams around the country would kill to be in their position and irrespective of their form, they’re only two wins away from securing the prize that this group of players crave.