In the short space of three weeks, Cork have come up with version 2.0. In truth, it’s only in beta format but it was more than enough to better Sligo.
But for Stephen Coen’s 53rd-minute goal, the result of poor communication at the back seeing Sligo score their first championship goal in over two years, the result would have been more emphatic.
But the box had been ticked. Cork had begun to move on from July 6.
They took full advantage of the wind in the first half and led 0-10 to 0-2 at the interval, never looking too troubled even when the gap was cut to four points with 13 minutes remaining.
As flattering a total as 21 points looks, this performance was more artisan than artistic. Colm O’Driscoll and Mark Collins bombed back to protect their full-back line and sweep just as they did going forward to provide options in counter-attacks. When Cork lost a kick-out, either or both ran back as quickly as they could to create a blockade in the centre.
The jury remains out on Brian Hurley’s stationing at centre-forward. Colm O’Neill, helping himself to 10 points, and Donal Óg Hodnett remained inside but surely Hurley’s ambidexterity is a threat closer to goal.
The solid showings from Fintan Goold, Daniel Goulding and Damien Cahalane coming off the bench after being dropped would also indicate Brian Cuthbert has a nice headache putting together a starting team to face Mayo.
But on Saturday it was all about Cork’s new structure and its effectiveness.
“It worked quite well for us, it provided a lot more cover for us at the back,” said the manager. “We’re disappointed we gave away the goal. Obviously if you have a system like that you shouldn’t be conceding goals. There’s somebody inside there who shouldn’t be there.
“Definitely in the first half, we played the system quite well. In the second half, the wind was very strong and when you can kick 45-yard frees, the lesson is not to concede them because they’re kickable. You have to make teams kick and not foul.”
After suffering so badly against Kerry on their own kick-out, there was going to be much emphasis on Ken O’Halloran’s restarts.
In the main, they were a welcome departure from the one-dimensional tactic seen in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. He went short on occasions with the likes of Collins and later Goold providing fine outlets.
“Ken was under huge pressure from a lot of people,” admitted Cuthbert. “We’ve a lot of work done in the three weeks and you can see that, we only lost three of our own kick-outs. That gave us a huge platform and he varied it as well. He played it well.”
If the graft shown on the evening was a hark back to Conor Counihan’s era, so too was the fondness for the fisted point. A large proportion of Cork’s total came from the hand as players remained cautious, Colm O’Neill and Daniel Goulding only really threatening the Sligo net towards the end.
“There were goal chances but there was a man at the back post all the time,” stressed Cuthbert.
“Definitely against Mayo if we get those goal chances we’re going to have to take them.”
In the 40th minute, O’Neill’s sixth point put Cork 11 ahead, 0-13 to 0-2, before Sligo rallied off four points in succession. A mix-up between Noel Galvin and O’Halloran allowed Coen in for his goal but Cork responded quickly with a free and even when a brace of Sligo scores cut the margin to four, the following four points were all Cork’s.
Sligo manager Pat Flanagan took some solace from reaching the last 1,2 having only started training in earnest with the players in January — he was the last senior inter-county football appointment.
“It’s great for the players to get to the last 12. It’s just a pity that we didn’t push on. Had we put a bit more pressure on them in the first half, we could have got a bit closer.
“Had we been four or five points behind at half-time with that wind advantage it might have given us an opportunity but we were so far behind all we could do was to aim to win the second half and see if we could put ourselves in a position at the end of the game.
“We got it back to within four points and they brought on a couple of experienced players and they made a big difference too.”
Scorers for Cork: C O’Neill 0-10 (3f, 1 45); P Kerrigan 0-5; A Walsh 0-2 (1f); D Hodnett, B Hurley (f), I Maguire, D Cahalane 0-1 each.
Scorers for Sligo: A Marren 0-5 (4f); S Coen 1-1; M Breheny 0-3 (1f); C Harrison, E McHugh 0-1 each.
Subs for Cork: F Goold for I Maguire (46); D Cahalane for T Clancy (53); D Goulding for D Hodnett (57); J O’Rourke for C O’Driscoll (61); T Clancy (Fermoy) for B O’Driscoll (66); J Dineen for A Walsh (69).
Subs for Sligo: J Hynes for D Kelly (43); S McManus for J Kilcullen (64); C Griffin for S Coen, E McHugh for B Curran (both 70).
Referee: D Gough (Meath) CORK: K O’Halloran; J Loughrey, E Cadogan, N Galvin; B O’Driscoll, T Clancy (Fermoy), M Shields; I Maguire, A Walsh; M Collins, P Kerrigan, C O’Driscoll; B Hurley, C O’Neill, D Hodnett. SLIGO: A Devaney; K Cawley, R Donovan, N Ewing; C Harrison, B Egan, B Curran; A McIntyre, K McDonnell; P Hughes, M Breheny, J Kilcullen; S Coen, A Marren, D Kelly.
A second point by Colm O’Neill on the bounce in the 40th minute put Cork 11 ahead. There was no coming back for Sligo.
The more cautious set-up adopted by Cork. It did its job, but Brian Hurley operating on the 40 is a manoeuvre that might take some getting used to.
Beforehand, journalists were given the re-jigged Sligo formation with two late changes. We’re not used to such openness.
Colm O’Neill produced a marvellous display. Paul Kerrigan wasn’t too far behind and the work-rate of Colm O’Driscoll, Eoin Cadogan and Noel Galvin was top rate.
Brian Cuthbert had his work done and it showed. It may have been conservative but then 21 points doesn’t sound like too unadventurous, does it?
A few accidental trips, which are deemed fouls, were missed by David Gough. Otherwise, a solid job.
Cork face Mayo for an All-Ireland semi-final berth in Croke Park on Sunday, while Sligo are just over six months from the start of their 2015 Division 3 campaign.