The stats will show that Niall Kelleher’s Rebels led from the first minute of this semi-final tie, when Brian Coughlan opened the scoring, and were good value for their victory. They led by 0-9 to 0-1 after 24 minutes and enjoyed a comfortable seven-point advantage at half-time, dominating all sectors of the pitch.
But as events unfolded it wasn’t surprising to hear Kelleher admit: “I always hate a half-time lead like that,” because, unfortunately for Cork, his fears proved well founded.
Cork’s wasteful finishing came back to haunt them and they were almost made pay for not closing out the game. In dreadful conditions, a 1-1 scoring burst from Sligo after the restart returned this game to the melting pot.
Cork were nervous too late on, having reopened a five-point margin but they found themselves under siege for the final 10 minutes.
The game hung on two plays in the 55th and 57th minutes when Sligo came close to pinching the goal they craved. Wing-forward Vincent Frizzell, who scored all six Sligo points, was hauled down by Cork corner-back Kevin Harrington when another stride or two would have put the forward into a goal-scoring position.
Harrington earned a second yellow card for it but Sligo only got a point from the resultant free. Moments later, Sligo probed forward again but full-forward James Clarke was pulled down just inches from the square, avoiding a penalty and, again, restricting Sligo to a free.
Cork still held a three-point lead and belatedly secured the victory with points from Andrew O’Brien and sub Matthew Dilworth.
“There were a few hairy moments alright,” admitted Cork manager Kelleher.
“The second-half was tough. The first-half we played quite well, picked up a lot of ball around the field and put it over the bar. The second half, of course, Sligo had nothing to lose and they came at us hard and they forced us into making a few mistakes.
“But we still worked very hard and we kept three or four points up for most of the game.”
Cork will meet Kildare in the final and on the basis of their first-half display should be favourites to overcome the Lilies who struggled to see off Lancashire. Powered on by Andrew O’Sullivan, Cork lorded midfield early on and put Sligo’s defence under pressure.
After 19 minutes Cork led 0-7 to 0-0 and seven different players got on the score sheet. Carthach Keane scored his second in the 23rd minute while another from Liam Shorten left them leading 0-9 to 0-2 at the break.
Sligo responded when sub Conor Griffin hand passed for Kevin Hynes to run onto and he slammed home a fine left footed shot. When Frizzell converted a free in the 37th minute Sligo trailed 1-3 to 0-9.
But they generally found scores harder to come by and could not breach the gap.
Scorers for Cork: L Shorten, A O’Brien 0-3 each, C Keane, K Hallissey 0-2 each, B Coughlan, A O’Sullivan, AJ O’Connor, M Dilworth 0-1 each.
Scorers for Sligo: V Frizzell 0-6 (4fs), J Hynes 1-0.
CORK: T O’Connor; E Wiseman, O O’Mahony, K Harrington; S Kiely, R O’Sullivan, AJ O’Connor; A O’Sullivan, D O’Donovan; T Clancy, C Keane, B Coughlan; K Hallissey, A O’Brien, L Shorten.
Subs: M Dilworth for Coughlan (47), B Daly for Clancy (59).
SLIGO: B McGovern; C Davey, J Martyn, K Cryan; S McManus, M Quinn, G Gilsenan; K Byrne, M McGowan; V Frizzell, J Hynes, M Butler; A Taaffe, J Clarke, G Gaughan.
Subs: C Griffin for Martyn (14), D Gilsenan for Taaffe (39), N Gaughan for Clarke (56), M Irwin for Hynes (60), M Rolston for McGowan (63).
Referee: P Kneel (Louth).