By Liam Mackey
They’ll meet again and we know where and we know when.
Cork City v Dundalk is now as much a definitive fixture in the domestic calendar as the FAI Cup final itself and, on November 4, the ‘New Firm’ will once again do battle for the glittering prize at the Aviva Stadium.
To begin to put the still raw loss of their league title behind them and also make the most of the late reprieve Kieran Sadlier’s penalty in the semi-final at Dalymount had offered their Cup ambitions, Cork City last night needed to generate and then capitalise on that special atmosphere which grips Turner’s Cross when the home side are, in the vernacular of the game, “at it”.
At it they certainly were from the start, even if there was nothing particularly refined about their approach, but such was the individual and collective application and intensity of the green shirts that, in what turned into a surprisingly one-sided first half, Bohemians were barely given space to breathe, let alone settle into any semblance of their passing game.
City, by contrast, were as direct and uncompromising as could be, the lack of any complication in their urgency to get the ball forward at every opportunity to Graham Cummins meaning that, well supported as he was by Sadlier and Karl Sheppard, the Rebels were able to keep Bohs on the back foot by forcing a succession of corners and free kicks.
While it wasn’t as if Shane Supple was being overworked in the Bohs goal, that level of sustained, in-your-face pressure was always likely to play on the visitors’ nerves and wear down their resolve.
It was no surprise that City’s opening goal game from a set-piece, though on this occasion you could hardly say that, in one of football’s favourite new clichés, it was “all about the delivery”. In fact, the delivery was rather flat but that didn’t bother Cummins who, in a fashion beloved of number nines down all the ages, opportunistically threw himself at the ball to send a textbook diving header to the corner of the net.
No surprise either about the manner of City’s second, which doubtless made Bohs manager Keith Long all the more dismayed that his team had conceded on the double. Taking a leaf from the Big Jack Route One playbook, Mark McNulty launched it long again, Cummins got his head to it again, and from the striker’s flick-on, Karl Sheppard reacted superbly to take the ball past Supple with his right foot and finish, on the turn, with his left.
The second half began then with City well on top, yet hardly in complete control of the game. If a one-goal lead is the most dangerous in football, a two-goal advantage hardly qualifies as a suspense-free zone. One reply from Bohemians and, suddenly, it would be game on again.
However, in their wildest goal-of-the-seasons fantasies, nobody have imagined how spectacular that reply would be, Ian Morris’ long-range thunderbolt just short of the hour mark almost lifting McNulty’s rigging out of the ground and, in instant, threatening to change the whole complexion of the game. Suddenly, City were assailed by nagging doubt, Bohs buoyed by a surge of belief.
However, if the huge visiting support thought the swirling wind was now firmly in the sails of their young side, they hadn’t factored in City’s experience, resilience and game management. True, the home side barely troubled the Bohs goal thereafter, but then they didn’t have to. The onus was now on their opponents to take the game to them and, though Long’s team were dominant in possession for the remainder of the 95 minutes, it’s hard to think of any serious opportunities they created to test McNulty, with a disciplined defensive display restricting them to nothing more threatening than a couple of long-distance efforts. As it turned out, this was not a night for lightning, or even Morris, to strike twice.
Karl Sheppard epitomised City’s resistance. There can be few more selfless players in Irish football, as he showed again by parking his attacking instincts to help man the pumps, eventually only being forced out of the action when another defensive intervention pushed him over the pain barrier.
The final whistle will also have helped ease, if hardly erase, the pain for Cork City of relinquishing their league title to their biggest rivals. It was all about the result last night and they delivered what was required.
Their redemption song has another verse to come.