They would like to think they’re a maturer force than the one which steam-rolled teams with flashy football last spring only to find it unfit for purpose in July. They’d like to think they’re not as naive as to believe all-out attacks are the best way forward. Better positioned to adapt during the game to what’s put in front of them? On the evidence on yesterday, that would seem the case.
Five points down at half-time and again by the 53rd minute, they were making little headway until Donncha O’Connor arrived and contributed to changing the course of the match. The triple substitution that followed also paid off and pointed to a growing depth to this Cork panel.
Racking up seven points without reply between the 57th and 69th minutes, Cork went two ahead when Colm O’Neill’s curling, booming shot was deemed by the umpires to be good, although Tyrone players and supporters thought otherwise.
With a free, Darren McCurry, one of Tyrone’s best on the afternoon, ended Tyrone’s 17 minutes without a score but there wasn’t time to find an equaliser. McCurry, in fact, was his side’s only contributor in the second half, his four points all coming from frees.
Tyrone struggled in the second half when facing the wind, much more than Cork in the first when Colm O’Neill’s deadball skills were needed. Sean Cavanagh was impressed with his International Rules colleague: “Particularly against that breeze, some of the frees Colm O’Neill was kicking were out of this world, Peter Canavan-esque sort of stuff. You have to accept some teams are going to do that on days like that.”
There were periods of both halves when Cork were presented with Tyrone’s stacked defence, but the home side relented on occasions, which was understandable given they haven’t put enough on the scoreboard in the last two games.
Cork were primed for whatever Tyrone threw at them and happily kept four men in defence in the first half even when Conor McAliskey was the sole home player in the Cork half of the field. However, Peter Harte’s long deliveries were causing bother for Conor Dorman and both he and Stephen O’Donoghue were beaten by McAliskey when he goaled in the third minute.
Cork’s three points in as many minutes, two of them coming in quick succession as they hounded the Tyrone kick-out, brought them right back into the game but then Micheál Martin was left to pick the ball from his net again in the 18th minute when Dorman pulled down Pádraig McNulty for a penalty converted by Harte.
Dorman was fortunate not to be black-carded — or receive a card of any colour. For the Red Hand support it was a reminder of last year’s drawn Ulster first-round game against Down and Conor Maginn’s escape after bringing Mark Donnelly to ground in the area.
Still, Cork looked to be in trouble and when McAliskey added a point they went five behind, 2-3 to 0-4. O’Neill’s massive free kicks into the teeth of the breeze steadied them but three of the last four scores of the half were Tyrone’s and they lead 2-6 to 0-7 at half-time.
That margin got no better until O’Connor’s arrival and while his 52nd-minute free was cancelled out by McCurry’s fourth of the day a minute later, Tyrone couldn’t handle Cork in the closing stages. With the aid of the wind, the likes of Dornan, O’Neill, Goold and substitute Donal Óg Hodnett were shooting with ease and the 3,985 crowd sensed bother.
“In the first half, we couldn’t do that, obviously with the wind,” said Brian Cuthbert. “Once the lads came on, and each one of them have kicking ability, the wind was a big factor there. And once we got the bit of space, I would have felt the last 12 minutes, we controlled their kick-outs as well, and once we had the ball, we were actually very, very good.”
The job Cork didn’t finish against Donegal two weeks ago, they completed here and what will give Cuthbert the most satisfaction might not be his switches, which worked sweetly, but the character shown by his team in reeling in Tyrone.
Mickey Harte’s side struggled to get any foothold in the final 15 minutes of the game. Admittedly, the wind was a nuisance for Niall Morgan’s kick-outs but Cork over and over again got more men to the ball and had Tyrone on the backfoot.
With all their substitutions used, Cork couldn’t replace Fintan Goold when he received a 67th minute black card but their momentum was so strong it pulled them through. Brian Hurley put them up for the first time a minute later and then O’Neill added his controversial sealer.
At the end, we counted just 18 Cork supporters clapping off the team. For the seldom, it was wonderful.
Scorers for Tyrone: D McCurry 0-7 (0-5f); C McAliskey 1-3; P Harte 1-0 (pen).
Scorers for Cork: C O’Neill 0-8 (0-3f, 0-1 ‘45’); B Hurley 0-2 (0-1f), D O’Connor 0-2 (0-1f); C O’Driscoll, M Collins, C Dornan, F Goold, D Hodnett 0-1 each.
Subs for Tyrone: C McCann for J McMahon (36); PJ Lavery for D Quinn (43); D McBride for R McKenna (58); P McNiece for R McNamee (68); Black card: R McNabb (70+1).
Subs for Cork: P Kerrigan for S O’Donoghue (26); D O’Connor for C O’Driscoll (49); D Goulding for M Collins, D Hodnett for K O’Driscoll, J Hayes for J O’Rourke (all 55); B O’Driscoll for T Clancy (62). Black card: F Goold (67).
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo)