Cork dominate possession when they’re reduced to `14 men. Offaly lose by a point when they might have had three more goals. A bare minute’s injury time. A red card given for an offence almost nobody saw, but which nobody quibbled with.
Don’t think Saturday’s All-Ireland SHC qualifier was an irresistible 70 (plus one) minutes of pure entertainment, though. The excitement was shoehorned into less than 40 seconds, after Shane Dooley’s late 65 dropped into the Cork net on 70 minutes.
Though his father Joe, the Offaly boss, reckoned they’d have equalised given another 20 seconds, they couldn’t work the opening from Donal Óg Cusack’s puckout, and Cork survived.
“You couldn’t picture that goal going in,” said Cork boss Denis Walsh afterwards.
“We played terrific hurling from the moment the man was put off — we nearly had it from there to the end. For me that’s the most pleasing aspect of the game.”
The man put off was Patrick Cronin, who saw red for Cork on 20 minutes, though as Walsh said, his dismissal didn’t prove catastrophic for Cork.
They’d begun with a bang, Cian McCarthy connecting on a loose ball near the square for a goal. A second arrived minutes later, when Luke O’Farrell finished after a necklace of quick passes.
Two goals in eight minutes, but a repeat of the ten scored against Laois was never likely. Offaly had a goal themselves to respond, Shane Dooley breaking through and placing Colin Egan close to goal for the finish.
When Cronin saw red Offaly looked to capitalise, but their shooting betrayed them. They suffered a string of first-half wides — 11 in all — which left them three down at the break, (2-7 to 1-7).
To make matters worse they’d missed two glaring goal chances just before half-time from Egan (hitting the bar) and Dooley (a Cusack save).
When Cork re-emerged they had the breeze, and the stylish Patrick Horgan hit three points to nudge them further in front.
From then on the second half sagged and wheezed more than somewhat. Cork were cleverer in their use of the ball and also blocked up their defence well.
“You’d be thinking that you’d be ground down eventually with 14 men,” said Walsh.
“But having the breeze with us in the second half was a help — they couldn’t get the deliveries into their danger-men inside. We worked extra hard around the midfield as well, which was a help.”
Offaly kept Cork in their sights, primarily through Daniel Currams’ point-scoring, but they couldn’t close the gap.
With four points in it and the clock approaching 70 minutes, though, Dooley’s 65 went all the way to the net.
With one point in it extra-time beckoned, but Cork stifled Offaly in their own half until referee Johnny Ryan called time.
Offaly manager Joe Dooley was left to rue those first-half wides.
“There was a very tricky breeze, and Cork had a number of wides at the same goal in the second half, the Blackrock End. That had a part to play, but we weren’t quite as sharp up front as we usually are.
“But you couldn’t fault the lads for effort, that’s the important thing. They all gave 100%, nobody held back or looked for a soft option. That’s all you can ask for.”
Cork will be concerned that three of their up-and-coming players — William Egan, Cian McCarthy and Luke O’Farrell — had to be replaced by experienced subs like Ronan Curran, Tom Kenny and Cathal Naughton.
Cronin faces suspension for the next outing at least, while after their two early green flags there were no goal chances for Cork, and Offaly made far more openings at the other end.
Against that Patrick Horgan’s fine form continues, though Cork had to sacrifice Paudie O’Sullivan’s predatory instincts near goal to a shift of heavy lifting in the middle of the field when Cronin went off. Gloom among the home support will be leavened by the knowledge that their side played 50 minutes with 14 men, but Saturday’s game is a far truer indication of Cork’s standing than the previous week’s goal-fest against Laois.
The Leesiders won’t fear their opponents in the next round, and their opponents won’t fear them. Make sense of that while you’re at it.
Scorers for Cork: P Horgan 0-10 (0-5 fs), C. McCarthy, L. O’Farrell 1-0 each; B. O’Connor, J. O’Connor 0-2 each P. O’Sullivan, S O’Neill, T. Kenny 0-1 each.
Scorers for Offaly: S. Dooley 1-9 (0-7 fs, 1-0 65); D. Currams 0-5; C. Egan 1-0; J. Bergin, C. Mahon 0-1 each.
Subs for Cork: R Curran for Egan (55), T Kenny (0-01) for N McCarthy, C Naughton for O’Farrell (both 59), B Cooper for C McCarthy (63).
Subs for Offaly: B Mulrooney for S Egan (14), B Murphy for Carroll (half-time), C Parlon for J Mulrooney (65), J Brady for Murphy (68).
Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary) Att: 7569.