They were marginally the more productive side in a contest in which a strong wind and the biting cold made conditions difficult on a solid surface, and the obsession of both sides with a running game seriously limited its entertainment value.
If there was one particular reason why the home side triumphed, it was because of the scoring ability of Donncha O’Connor at left corner-forward, who accounted for half of the team’s total. And for a Fermanagh team whose inability to finish off attacking movements cost them the Ulster title last season, none of their forwards posed a threat – even though diminutive centre-forward Mark Little put in a huge effort all through.
Bringing in Paudie Kissane for the absent John Miskella, Cork made the better start backed by the wind. O’Connor had two of his five points scored within six minutes and even after the visitors came back level in just five minutes, Cork still promised more for a while because of their better movement off the ball up front.
However, that situation was to change gradually, according as Fermanagh’s tactic of packing their defence saw them win much more primary possession. They moved the ball forward with greater effect and showed a facility to get players into scoring positions, which was to see them draw level a second time in the 28th minute.
By then, Cork had lost midfielder Alan O’Connor after he was yellow-carded for what appeared to be a pulling-down offence. He had been competing well with the more accomplished Fermanagh captain Marty McGrath and his replacement – Ballyclough player Paul O’Flynn – coped well in the circumstances. However, it was notable that the more experienced Nicholas Murphy wasn’t making anything like the impact expected of him.
Meanwhile, his direct opponent — James Sherry — was quite prominent at times in some of Fermanagh’s forward moves, to which Seamus Ryder at full-forward also contributed. Nevertheless, the steadfast play of the Cork backs — with Graham Canty rock solid in the centre and Noel O’Donovan comfortable at the edge of the square — limited their scoring opportunities.
And it was much the same story at the other end. Conor McCarthy was the best of the Cork half-forwards, with Pearse O’Neill finding it difficult to get involved and Daniel Goulding failing to reach the standard of his play with Cork IT in their Sigerson Cup success, most notably by missing some good chances from frees. Michael Cussen provided good support play at times, but O’Connor was the one who looked most capable of getting scores on the day.
Interestingly, it was approaching half-time when the Rebel marchers on the uncovered stand side (where 880 of the crowd of 1,730 were situated) first got behind the team. And, with their wides total standing at six, McCarthy gave Cork a half-time lead (0-5 to 0-4) with a perfectly placed kick which made allowance for the wind.
Following Fermanagh’s lead of playing just two forwards inside – which saw Cussen deployed at midfield on McGrath (who was to finish at full-forward) – Cork noticeably played to a higher level on the resumption. It saw them add on three points without reply in a period of 15 minutes, one of them coming from substitute Paul Kerrigan who was a good addition to the half-forward line.
However, Fermanagh also raised their standard, with Daryl Keenan hitting two good points after being brought in at wing-forward and after they had the margin down to two points ten minutes from the final whistle, they just lacked the forward power to save the game.
Reflected Cork coach Conor Counihan: “The first-half we’d a lot of ball, couldn’t get the scores on the board and left ourselves with a bit of a battle in the second-half. Defensively, I thought we were good enough. But at the other end we didn’t take our chances and it’s not good enough at this level. We introduced a few new players near the end, some people did well, some people didn’t. We’re still using the league as a grounding basis and we’ll work on that. The win keeps us in contention. We’ve Laois away now next week with five points in the bag. That’s reasonable enough”
Scorers for Cork: D O’Connor 0-5 (1f, 1‘45); C McCarthy, N O’Donovan, D Goulding (f), P Kerrigan & J Hayes 0-1 each.
Fermanagh: S O’Brien 0-3 (1f); D Keenan 0-2; J Sherry & T McElroy 0-1 each.
CORK: A Quirke; M Shields, N O’Donovan, A Lynch; N O’Leary, G Canty, P Kissane; A O’Connor, N Murphy; P O’Neill, F Goold, C McCarthy; D Goulding, M Cussen, D O’Connor.
Subs: P O’Flynn for A O’Connor (yellow), 20; P Kerrigan for Goold, ht; J Hayes for Murphy, 44; K O’Sullivan for Goulding, 53; G Spillane for Kissane, 69.
FERMANAGH: R Gallagher; S Goan, H Brady, M Jones; P Johnston, S McDermott, T McElroy; M McGrath (capt), J Sherry; C McElroy, M Little, S O’Brien; E Maguire, S Ryder, R Keenan.
Subs: D Kille for Ryder, ht; R Foy for Johnston, 47; D Keenan for R Keenan, 50; R Carson for C McElroy, 54; D Kelly for T McElroy (yellow), 56; N Bogue for Jones, 70.
Referee: M Condon (Waterford).