DEFENDING champions Sarsfields got off to a winning start in the opening round of the Cork SHC at Carrigtwohill on Saturday, but they were forced to sweat before overcoming a stubborn Cloyne challenge.
Sars were grateful to Cian McCarthy for hitting over some inspirational frees at a stage in the second half when the game threatened to go away from them.
Manager John Crowley readily acknowledged shortcomings in their score-getting, highlighted by the lack of involvement from Cork panellists Kieran Murphy and Michael Cussen until around the three-quarters stage and the inability of Wexford player Eoin Quigley to make an impression in attack.
“We knew we were going to get a right battle. We made hard work for ourselves in the first half,” said Crowley.
“A lot of our final ball was poor, particularly from half-back and midfield.”
Missing about a third of their county final line-up and accepting the need for improvement, he added: “No counties are won in June.”
Sars played from the outset with the confidence which was to ultimately see them over the line. Cian McCarthy, who was to contribute seven points (one a sweetly-struck sideline shot) had them in front in the first minute and they were to hold the lead until early in the second half.
They had five points on the board by the 16th minute, with just one in reply from county minor Dillon Cahill who was to finish Cloyne’s top scorer. Gary O’Kelly-Lynch, switched from the wing, was strong at full-back and Daniel Kearney was quick to make an impact at midfield.
However progress was slow up front. Kieran Murphy and Quigley (faced by a dominant Diarmuid O’Sullivan) made no headway in the half-forward line and Michael Cussen was being well held by Killian Cronin.
Cloyne were also struggling to make openings in attack and notably Paudie O’Sullivan saw very little ball in the right corner, where he was closely marked by Conor O’Sullivan. The net result was that a lot of good defensive work went to waste until Conor Cusack boosted them with a 29th minute goal, bringing down a shot from O’Sullivan which appeared to be going wide.
It left the half-time score 0-7 to 1-2, with both sides ruing missed chances — Sars corner-forward Eoin O’Sullivan taking a point in the last minute when a goal looked on.
On the resumption, a more determined Cloyne forced the pace, with Cahill hitting over a free before getting their first point from play in the 34th minute. That brought them level for the first time and they quickly went ahead after another Cahill free and a well-struck ball from midfielder James Nyhan.
Under pressure for the first time, Sarsfields were relieved to see McCarthy put over four frees from varying distances between the 38th and 46th minutes. And, after Conor Cusack with a great score and Paudie O’Sullivan brought Cloyne level a second time, Sars had the temperament — and the greater scoring threat — to come back fighting again.
Kieran Murphy (like Cussen benefiting from a move to the half-forward line) had them back in front in the 53rd minute and they hit four more scores while conceding only one, to a Paudie O’Sullivan free.
Scorers for Sarsfields: C McCarthy 0-7 (0-5f, 0-1 sideline), R O’Driscoll (1f), E O’Sullivan 0-2 each, D Kearney, K Murphy, D Roche, P Ryan, T Óg Murphy 0-1 each.
Scorers for Cloyne: D Cahill 0-5 (0-4f), C Cusack 1-1, P O’Sullivan 0-2 (0-1f), J Nyhan 0-1.
SARSFIELDS: A Kennedy; D Kenneally, G O’Kelly-Lynch, C O’Sullivan; D Roche, C Leahy, E Martin; D Kearney, T Óg Murphy; K Murphy, E Quigley, C McCarthy; R O’Driscoll, M Cussen, E O’Sullivan.
Subs: C Smith for O’Kelly-Lynch (inj) (2nd-half), P Ryan for Quigley (54).
CLOYNE: D Óg Cusack; E O’Sullivan, K Cronin, B Fleming; D Dineen, Diarmuid O’Sullivan, B McCarthy; Donal O’Sullivan, J Nyhan; A Walsh, D Cahill, C Cusack; P O’Sullivan, C O’Sullivan, K Dennehy.
Subs: C Smyth for Dineen (38), C Lomasney for C O’Sullivan (55)
Referee: David Copps (Ballyhea).