Cork produce another Houdini act

EVEN by the exalted standard of comebacks the Cork minor footballers have engineered this season, what unfolded in Croke Park yesterday was outrageous.

Dramatic recoveries have been a recurring theme throughout 2010 for this Cork team, from their opening day jaunt to Ennis in April to the provincial decider in Killarney in July, and the breathless finish when they pegged back Armagh in the last eight in Croke Park earlier this month. But in yesterday’s ESB All-Ireland MFC semi-final, they accomplished their most incredible revival to date.

When Galway full-forward Conor Rabbitte slammed the ball to the back of the Cork net in the 44th minute, he struck what looked like the killer blow in this game. It propelled Galway into a 5-6 to 2-6 advantage, it was the third goal Cork had shipped in the space of 10 minutes and the ease at which Galway were carving open the Cork rearguard suggested that there were further scores on offer for the Tribesmen.

Cork were dangling on the precipice and a deluge of goals accompanied by a Galway collapse appeared the only possible set of circumstances that would engineer a Rebel victory.

What transpired in the final quarter was truly stunning. Cork did get the revitalising tonic of a goal immediately after Rabbitte’s strike, when Kevin Hallissey raised his second green flag after Dan McEoin knocked a high ball perfectly into his path. That strike brought them within six points, and from there they calmly went about the business of chipping away at Galway’s advantage.

Jamie Burns and, in particular, Damian Cahalane exerted a stranglehold on midfield, which ensured there was a constant stream of ball funnelled towards the Galway goal. Corner-forwards Hallissey and Brian Hurley were both in electric form as they proved constant menaces to the Galway rearguard, wing-back Jamie Wall scythed forward at every opportunity and centre-back Tomás Clancy bedded down the Cork backline.

Cork cleverly worked shooting openings and the scores ensued. Cahalane thumped over a great score in the 54th minute to leave them just one adrift before Hallissey tied the match when he clipped over three minutes later, at 5-6 to 3-12.

The action ebbed and flowed in the finale as Galway woke from their temporary slumber. Shane Maughan converted a free in the 59th minute to edge them in front but that was negatived when Hurley struck over a magnificent free from 45 yards a minute later. From the resultant kick-out Galway garnered possession and a swift team move was crowned by a sweet point by Maughan. It had the look of a potential match-winner yet Cork’s composure told in injury-time. Hurley was on target with a close-range free that squared the match and then when the same player scorched clear of the Galway defence in the 63rd minute, he was hauled back on the 20-yard line by full-back James Shaughnessy. Hurley coolly slotted over the resultant kick and improbably Cork were through to an All-Ireland final meeting with Tyrone on September 19.

It was difficult to make sense of a game that careered through 60 madcap minutes. Cork only led twice during the match, in the second minute when Mark Sugrue popped over a point and at the final whistle after Hurley’s winning free. In that respect it was rough justice on Galway to suffer defeat, yet Cork’s big names of Clancy, Cahalane, Hurley and Hallissey maintained the high standards they have set this season. Cork’s shrewd use of their substitutes also helped. Dan McEoin and Stephen O’Mahony both provided targets for long passes to the full-forward line, Kevin Fulignati tightened up matters defensively, Conor O’Sullivan handled ball with intelligence in the finale and Tom Hegarty won a crucial ball in defence to feed Hurley before he was fouled at the finish.

Manager Brian Cuthbert did not need to be coaxed afterwards into admitting his team had enjoyed a slice of fortune or that they can hardly afford for their defence to be as porous again in the final. Galway signalled the offensive threat as early as the seventh minute when danger man Peadar O Gríofa slipped the ball to the net. Cork did generate enough possession to create attacking opportunities throughout the first half but failed to capitalise. They did finally hit the net in the 29th minute when Hallissey finished off a John O’Rourke pass but Galway immediately responded courtesy of the impressive O Gríofa to lead 2-5 to 1-5 at the break.

Cork enjoyed a fillip after the interval when Hurley did brilliantly to gather a long punt by Cahalane and drill a left-foot shot to the net. But then Cork found themselves reeling with Niall Walsh and Rabbitte twice, smashing strikes to the net between the 34th and 44th minutes. The match seemed a done deal at that juncture but once again Cork illustrated their capacity to fight successfully to the final whistle and were rewarded in dramatic fashion.

Scorers for Cork: B Hurley 1-5 (five frees); K Hallissey 2-2; D Cahalane, M Sugrue 0-2 each; J O’Rourke, D McEoin, J Wall, D Fitzgerald (one free) 0-1 each.

Galway: P O Gríofa, C Rabbitte 2-1 each; N Walsh 1-1; S Maughan 0-3 (one free); N Quinn, C O’Neill 0-1 each.

Subs for Cork: D McEoin for Fitzgerald (28), K Fulignati for Murphy (37), C O’Sullivan for Goggin (41), S O’Mahony for Sugrue (46), T Hegarty for Lester (49).

Galway: D Burke for Vaughan (21), C O’Neill for Commins (24), F O’Bearra for Quinn (44), A Varley for Walsh (53), T Curran for MacDonnacha (inj) (58).

Referee: Gary McCormack (Dublin).

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