On Saturday night, Cork were ambushed at Páirc Uí Rinn courtesy of late goals from subs Niall Kelly and Paddy Brophy to complete a nice treble. Coming on the back of the O’Byrne Cup victory over Dublin and league opener against Donegal, Kieran McGeeney’s side have now beaten the last three All-Ireland winners in as many games.
The last time the Lilywhites won their first two league game was in 2004, and while that led to them topping the table, it was Division 2B and their championship campaign amounted to defeats against Wexford and Offaly.
Now, they are becoming real contenders, even if McGeeney was keen to downplay any hype.
“It is good, there’s not much point in saying anything different,” he said afterwards, “but they are still good enough to know that this time last year we hadn’t won any games and ended up winning the league.
“We have Kerry next, I think Dublin after that, you could be sitting bottom in two games very quickly. It’s great to be where we are, don’t get me wrong, but I still think we have a lot of work to do in terms of where we need to go to.”
They did their work impressively on Saturday, holding their hosts scoreless for the last 12 minutes, but McGeeney also acknowledged that the game turned on the sending off of Cork’s Damien Cahalane five minutes into the second half, when Cork led by 1-6 to 0-7.
While the withdrawal of Ciarán Sheehan to the half-back line in Cahalane’s absence allowed him to ping a superb pass from which Donncha O’Connor pointed, he was eventually replaced by Fermoy’s Tom Clancy, and the home attacked began to flounder.
Aided by Pádraig O’Neill’s endless work in midfield, Kildare were enjoying more of the play, and though for a while they ran the risk of not transforming their momentum into scores, they came good.
In the first half, it had been Cork with a dominance in possession stakes, but as is often the case, breaking through the massed banks of white was problematic — at one stage in the first half Eoin Cadogan emerged from the Cork defence with the ball and, with no options available, he was forced to solo on the spot, the footballing equivalent of a basketball point guard.
At times, Kildare’s formation seemed to be a 3-8-3, with positions little more than guidelines, as Cahalane found when searching for somebody to mark at a Lilywhite kick-out, ending up in the left half-forward position.
It was from Kildare kick-outs, as well as on the break after attacks broke down, that Cork found most joy in that opening period. After two Seánie Johnston points had put Kildare 0-3 to 0-1 in front, Donncha O’Connor pulled one back from a free and then Cork added 1-1 as they won Shane Connolly’s next two restarts, Sheehan with the goal after Fintan Goold and Paul Kerrigan had combined to create a chance for him.
Donncha O’Connor should have added another moments later when Colm O’Neill played him in, only for the ball to slip from his grasp, allowing Connolly to claim.
Kildare were mainly on the back foot, but Mikey Conway — playing a free role in defence — kicked two fine points to keep them in touch, but Paul Kerrigan closed the half with arguably Cork’s best point, the ball worked through Cadogan, Jamie O’Sullivan and O’Neill before a fine shot from distance.
Aidan Walsh began the second half with a booming effort for the hosts, but Daniel Flynn ensured that Kildare hung onto their coat-tails, and then Cahalane’s red card, for an alleged stamp on half-time sub Kelly, swung things their way.
Cork kept ahead, but the introduction of Tomás O’Connor had given Kildare an extra dimension in the full-forward line and it was no surprise when he was the one to supply Kelly for the lead goal.
O’Connor was also involved in setting O’Neill away late on, and while he could have gone for a score from a tight angle, instead he hand-passed to Brophy — like Kelly, a minor last year — who had an easy task to finish.
Four points for Kildare, none for Cork, but Rebels manager Conor Counihan didn’t appear to be too disappointed.
“It isn’t the place we wanted to be but we are there and the reality is maybe it isn’t a bad place to be either, and when I say a bad place maybe there are lessons to be learned down there to.
“Maybe we have to graft a little more, maybe we were a bit spoilt in the past that we were getting on top. Now we are at the bottom and we have to fight our way out of it and that takes character. We are going to have to find that.”
Scorers for Cork: C O’Neill 0-3 (0-2f), C Sheehan 1-0, D O’Connor (0-2f), P Kerrigan 0-2 each, A Walsh, J O’Rourke 0-1 each.
Kildare: M Conway 0-4 (0-2f), N Kelly, P Brophy 1-0 each, S Johnston, P O’Neill 0-2 each, D Flynn, J Doyle (0-1f) 0-1 each.
CORK: K O’Halloran; E Cadogan, E O’Mahony, M Shields; D Cahalane, T Clancy (Clonakilty), J O’Sullivan; G Canty, A Walsh; F Goold, J O’Rourke, C Sheehan; C O’Neill, D O’Connor, P Kerrigan.
Subs: A O’Connor for T Clancy (Clonakilty), half-time; T Clancy (Fermoy) for Sheehan (54), P O’Neill for Goold (61), P Kissane for Walsh (62).
KILDARE: S Connolly; H McGrillen, M Foley, P Kelly; M Conway, O Lyons, E Bolton; G White, P O’Neill; D Flynn, C McNally, B Flanagan; E O’Flaherty, S Johnston, J Doyle.
Subs : N Kelly for McNally, T O’Connor for O’Flaherty (both half-time), E Doyle for Lyons (50), M O’Flaherty for Flanagan (54), P Brophy for Johnston (58).
Referee : R Hickey (Clare).