A pep in their step too for the 2,648 paying customers at Páirc Uí Rinn yesterday, most of whom came away thinking yes, Cork’s football regeneration is being piloted in the right direction.
Good enough to displace Dublin, Kerry, Mayo and Tyrone on football’s imagined medal podium? It’s early, and Cork football specialises in false dawns, but you could certainly argue the case. Freshmen Conor Dorman, Donal Óg Hodnett, Alan Cronin, Brian O’Driscoll and Cathal Vaughan are already creating the sense that Cuthbert’s options are broadening by the week. Whether it’s an illusory sense is yet to crystallise — but given that Colm O’Neill, Michael Shields, Eoin Cadogan and Aidan Walsh are yet to be added to the mix, Cork have robust grounds for expectation.
Kildare too, though as Jason Ryan admitted afterwards, transition can sometimes be a frustrating evolution. For 25 minutes of yesterday’s first period, they were incisive and purposeful and altogether more cohesive than their hosts.
Cork yanked John McLoughlin early — Darroch Mulhall was doing damage — and lost Clonakilty’s Tom Clancy to a hamstring pull. With Tomás O’Connor doing his beastly best on the edge of the square on young Bishopstown prospect Dorman, Cork’s full-back line was unsettled and Kildare were value for their 0-8 to 0-5 lead after 26 minutes, as Cathal McNally pointed.
A minute before Cork’s best player throughout, John O’Rourke, blotted his star showing with a panicky effort for goal. Earlier James Loughrey had also fired wide when the umpire must have been preparing his green flag wave.
They appeared costly aberrations. However, the comfort of a Cork forward finding the posts was never too far away — seven attackers in red scored two points or more yesterday and none were more important than the pair Donncha O’Connor conjured from scraps before the break. First he barged through three challenges to point — when he possibly should have goaled — before turning sow’s ear sideline possession into a score three minutes before the interval. Approaching 33, should the Ballydesmond man be doing that in February? Explained Cuthbert: “He’s worked very hard, I hope he’s enthused by what we’re trying to do. Today for 65 minutes, he looked very busy and dangerous. When he plays like that, he’s a very hard man to stop. He’s done it for years and there’s plenty left in him.”
If the quality of the first period was refreshing — Kildare changing ends with an 0-8 to 0-7 edge — it wasn’t diminished in any way by a perishing hailstorm as the second half began. If anything, the quality went up a notch with seven scores in the opening eight minutes including an outrageous sideline point off the ground from Kildare’s Mulhall to level it at 0-9 each.
But the game was undergoing a subtle transformation all the same. With O’Rourke showing well for Cork, Brian Hurley finally finding space and Donal Óg Hodnett showing positively too, the hosts began to take a grip. It’s not that Cork were suddenly dominating midfield — more that their forwards were making greater inroads than Kildare’s. In the 48th minute, Cork fluffed another goal chance, this one from Goulding, after a heads-up pass from Hurley, and this one more blatant than any of the other four.
The Eire Óg man did raise a white flag, and once Mark Collins — now at midfield — added Cork’s 14th point, the game’s balance tilted irrevocably.
Cuthbert introduced one-time goal-poacher John Hayes as a ball-playing sweeper, but the change that re-ignited fan fervour was that of 20-year-old Cathal Vaughan from Iveleary, a Cork IT student, who looks the part.
Not so fast, pleaded the Cork coach: “It’ll be a while before you see him in the burning suns of Killarney in July,” smiled Cuthbert.
“He’s very good, but he’s got of learning to do, a lot of game time to get better. He’s only 20 years of age, and the U21 game against Kerry in Tralee next month is his focus. If Cork do the business there, that moves him up the pecking order a bit in our squad.”
McNally scrambled an injury-time goal for Kildare but when he did, Cork were four to the good in terms of points ahead and points on the board in the league. Dublin in three weeks at Croke Park will be a far more difficult proposition, and not just because Cork will be facing the All-Ireland champions.
The vast prairie that is headquarters against a team of Dublin’s relentless movement can be a pretty disconcerting experience for a rookie. Cuthbert accepts, though, that this is a road Cork must travel.
“I think there’s a lot of very good footballers in Cork, and it’s a case of giving them the opportunity. I don’t know where this is going to end up, but it’s very exciting being involved with these lads because they’re young, enthusiastic and they’re giving it everything they have.”
Scorers for Cork: J. O’Rourke (0-3), M. Collins (0-2), D O’Connor (0-2), D Goulding (0-2, one free), B. Hurley (0-2), D Óg Hodnett (0-2), C. Vaughan (0-2, one free), J. Loughrey (0-1).
Scorers for Kildare: C. McNally (1-2), D Mulhall (0-4, one free, one sideline), E. O’Flaherty (0-2, one free), S. Hurley, P. Brophy, T. O’Connor, K. Murnaghan (0-1 each).
Subs for Cork: A Cronin for McLoughlin (21 mins), N Galvin for Clancy (34, inj); C O’Driscoll for O’Sullivan (53); J Hayes for Goulding (59); C Vaughan for O’Connor (64); K O’Driscoll for B O’Driscoll (69).
Subs for Kildare: D Hyland for Bolton (half-time, inj), H McGrillen for F Conway (43); J Gately for Hurley (55), F Dowling for Mulhall (59, inj), P O’Neill for White (64), M Conway for O’Flaherty (67).
Referee: E. Kinsella (Laois).
CORK: K O’Halloran; J McLoughlin, C Dorman, T Clancy; B O’Driscoll, F Goold, J Loughrey; A O’Sullivan, R Deane; M Collins, D O’Connor, J O’Rourke; D Goulding, B Hurley, D Óg Hodnett. KILDARE: M Donnellan; M O’Grady, K Murnaghan, M Foley; E Bolton, F Conway, P Cribbin; T Moolick, G White; S Hurley, E O’Flaherty, C McNally; P Brophy, T O’Connor, D Mulhall.
A third quarter tour-de-force from Cork, bolstered in part by the gale-assisted hailstorm after half time, but primarily via the work of their middle eight, especially John O’Rourke in the half-forwards.
How fresh and strong Donncha O’Connor looked up front for Cork. And how to the manor born, prospect Cathal Vaughan from Iveleary looked when he was introduced. Six minutes, two points for the Cork IT attacker.
Sodden turf, against the elements. Sideline ball close to the Páirc Ui Rinn dressing room. And Kildare’s Darroch Mulhall points it off the ground with his left foot. Maurice Fitzgerald, eat your heart out.
Rosscarbery’s John O’Rourke grabbed three points, should have had a goal, and was both link and outlet for the Cork attack. Top display.
None from Eddie Kinsella, though a few genuine case studies. It appears referees are going ‘second strike, you’re out’ in the League.
Six Cork subs, and Paul Kerrigan not required. Brian Cuthbert has to be thrilled with a deepening squad.
Eddie Kinsella had good cause to flash at least one black card to Kildare’s Fergal Conway, but chose yellow. Failed to use advantage rule once or twice, but generally sound.
Cork face the first real examination of their new dawn away to Dublin on Saturday March 1, while Kildare entertain Tyrone the following day.