The northerners kept in touch until Niall McCarthy’s goal late in the first half and maintained their disciplined, determined display even when Cork began to edge away from them following that crucial score.
For all that, the game was never going to be mistaken for the full-blooded encounter which followed yesterday afternoon in headquarters: Cork were able to find scores with relative ease bringing the ball through the heart of the Antrim defence. Time and again, they opted for points from middle distance; if the game had been closer there’s no doubt Paudie O’Sullivan and Tom Kenny, for instance, would have gone bald-headed for goal on a couple of occasions instead of popping cheap points over the bar.
Cork set up with a different alignment to that in the match programme, bringing Kieran ‘Fraggie’ Murphy to centre-forward and shifting Michael Cussen to the wing, with Ben O’Connor moving in to top of the left.
They gave a signal of intent with two points in the first 90 seconds, from Paudie O’Sullivan and Cathal Naughton. When Aisake O hAilpín and Ben O’Connor added two more, Antrim were facing a four-point deficit and an expected trouncing, but they rallied and settled down. The combative Liam Watson and the accurate Neil McManus up front gave Antrim hope, getting the Ulster champions within a point of Cork on 10 minutes.
McManus was unerring with the placed ball and ended the half with five points, while Watson put an early yellow card behind him to collect four points from play.
Further back, Antrim had gems in the crisp striking of Sean Delargy in the full-back line, while in front of him Johnny Campbell – though he too was cautioned – anchored the defence well.
Cork were always able to keep distance between themselves and Antrim, however. The industrious Niall McCarthy and Tom Kenny ranged through for points almost at will, and Ben O’Connor punished Antrim’s indiscipline from placed balls.
Though Antrim kept Cork in sight, never trailing by more than three points, the game always looked like a Cork goal was one or two passes away, and near half-time they made that breakthrough. The score was 0-14 to 0-11 in their favour when O hAilpín clipped a clever pass to the incoming Niall McCarthy, who batted the ball home from an acute angle.
When Ben O’Connor added two pointed frees in injury time, Cork had an eight-point cushion at the break, 1-16 to 0-11.
The second half saw Antrim begin brightly, with points from Watson and McManus, but they needed goals to make a game of it. On 44 minutes they had a chance, with a 21-metre free, but Watson’s effort was beaten away by Tom Kenny, though McManus pointed the resultant 65.
Five minutes later Antrim had another glimpse of goal, when McManus won possession near the square, but Eoin Cadogan and Brian Murphy smuggled the ball away. On 60 minutes Antrim won another 21-metre free and went for glory – again through Watson – but this time Brian Murphy made the stop.
If that gives an impression of a Cork goal under continuous siege, it shouldn’t. Every time Antrim managed a point, Cork were able to respond, usually through John Gardiner’s immaculate long-range frees.
With the game winding down, a fracas at the Cork end saw Gardiner and Watson booked, with the Antrim man getting the sideline for his second yellow.
Cork closed the game with three consecutive points, Cathal Naughton’s free-running effort the pick of the bunch, to make it 1-25 to 0-19.
For Cork there are conundrums which remain ahead of their game with Kilkenny in two weeks.
Shane O’Neill, Sean Óg O hAilpín and Jerry O’Connor remain on the treatment table, and most observers would feel Cork need a full deck to have a chance of trumping the Cats.
The issue of supply to the inside line remains an active consideration also, with Aisake O hAilpín seeing little of the elegantly arced delivery he and the other full-forwards thrived on against Tipperary.
A sterner test ahead for Cork, and plenty of work on the training field in the next fortnight.
Cork: D. Og Cusack; S. Murphy, E. Cadogan, B. Murphy; J.Gardiner (0-3), R.Curran, R. Ryan; T. Kenny (0-3), C. Naughton (0-2); B. O'Connor (0-6), M. Cussen, N. McCarthy (1-2); P. O'Sullivan (0-3), A.O’hAilpin (0-1), K. Murphy (0-4).
Subs: P. Horgan for O’hAilpin, P. Cronin for Cussen, W. Egan (0-1) for McCarthy
Antrim: C. O'Connell; K. McGourty, C. Donnelly, S. Delargey; P. Shiels, J. Campbell (0-1), C. Herron; S. McNaughton (0-1), K. Stewart; S. McCrory, N. McManus (0-9), T. McCann; P. J. O'Connell, L. Watson (0-6), K. McKeegan (0-1).
Subs: J. McKeague for Shiels, B. McFall for McCann, M. Herron (0-1) for McKeigue, D.Hamill for P. J. O'Connell, E. McCloskey for McNaughton.
Ref: M. Wadding (Waterford).