And there’s where the comparisons with their last annexing of the Sam Maguire Cup should stop. But if you must, that qualifier run six years ago was a time for healing. This is one of discovery for a team that does not yet know itself.
Beating lower divisional sides in July 2010 was simply taking care of business. The expressions on the faces of the victorious camp on Saturday suggested this latest win meant more than another jumped hurdle. They were relieved that they didn’t become the latest notch in Longford’s belt of qualifier victims but just as comforted by the fact they recovered so convincingly after quite a horrid start.
Their 29-minute barren spell extended beyond the first-half, commencing in the 10th minute and only finishing when Mark Collins sent over a point four minutes into the second-half (there were five additional first-half minutes) was a frightening vista for the Cork following, of which there were plenty in the 3,567 crowd.
But an unanswered spell of 1-4 in the space of 12 minutes and confining Longford to two second-half points was a most resounding recovery, helped in no small part by the introduction of Pa Kelly and Colm O’Neill. The energy presented by another replacement Sean Powter and championship debutant Michael Hurley brought penetration to Cork attacks in the second-half but the influence of the aforementioned pair, particularly Kelly, was undeniable.
O’Neill’s finish for his 49th minute goal, created by Powter, was typically brilliant but just as applaudable was Kelly’s decision to disguise a point-taking effort into a pass into Ian Maguire for the second goal in the 61st minute.
As Cork selector Eoin O’Neill gushed afterwards: “Yeah it was incredible but this guy’s a genius. Thankfully, he’s been coming back to a bit of fitness now and hopefully he can stay that way.”
In Kelly’s first piece of action this season, he guided Cork out of what O’Neill described as a “bearpit” when facing into a second half wind and trailing Longford by four points, 1-4 to 0-3.
“Paddy has had a couple of injuries. He’s coming back to full fitness now, he saw a small bit of game time against Limerick. From that point of view, we’re very happy to get Paddy on the field and trying to keep him right. Paddy has a lot to offer, he’s a very good footballer. We’re delighted with him.
“I thought Sean Powter did exceptionally well in the second-half as well. I mean this guy is a super player. Michael Hurley started as well, he had a very good second-half, set the tone, played with a bit of abandon. You have to go for it too, I’m delighted with those guys. Everybody who came on did their part Moves worked well today, thankfully.”
Peter Kelleher and Brian O’Driscoll would be two players unhappy with their lots on Saturday although Longford showed all the respect in the world to Kelleher, who was pinned in by defenders any time he managed to gain possession.
Kelleher could have had a second minute goal but for Paddy Collum’s save.
Cork opened brightly but were behind in the 26th minute when Noel Galvin was adjudged to have upended Robbie Smyth, who had been put through cleverly by a Darren Gallagher pass, in the penalty area. The call by referee Derek O’Mahoney looked harsh on the Cork defender as it did on Smyth who still managed to find the net but Brian Kavanagh made no mistake from the spot.
“I thought Noel Galvin actually didn’t foul him at all,” remarked O’Neill. “But at the end of the day then, he fell down on the ground and kicked it into the back of the net. When you’re running at an opposition defence and you hit the ground with a fella tackling you from behind, it’s hard for referees. But I thought it was harsh.”
Six first-half wides told one story for Cork but then so too did the number of times the ball was stolen from them. Too often midfield looked static too.
O’Neill reviewed: “We felt if we retained possession of the ball a little bit more and just work ourselves back into the game bit by bit. We knew we had the ability to do it, it was just that our turnovers were killing us. I think we turned over the ball in the first-half 13 times, which is just not good enough. We retained the ball better and made better runs (in the second half). The boys got the result and they showed their quality to hit the back of the net and finish off a couple of moves.”
There were red cards for Gallagher and James Loughrey, who will miss the next qualifier game as a result, with both men deemed to have struck in a melee. Diarmuid Masterson also made way for a second yellow card late on but the loss of Gallagher, combined with Michael Brady’s removal from the pitch through injury, claimed Longford’s starting midfield.
“Cork are a classy side,” acknowledged Denis Connerton. “They’ve a huge number of household names in their ranks between All-Stars and All-Ireland winners. They asked a lot of questions of us and unfortunately a lot of the question we didn’t have the answers to today.
“Looking back over our run, we played over 230 minutes of football against Division 1 teams and it took 210 minutes to break us down.
“For us, that’s good going. It was maybe a bit emotional for our boys coming home today and maybe mentally we were tired. Physically, we were definitely tired.”
B. Kavanagh (1-1, 1-0 pen); R. Smyth (0-2, 1 free); D. Masterson, J. McGivney, M. Quinn (0-1 each).
C. O’Neill (1-1, 0-1 free); I. Maguire (1-0); M. Collins, P. Kerrigan (free) (0-2 each); J. Loughrey, M. Hurley, P. Kelly, J. O’Rourke (0-1 each).
P. Collum; D. McElligott, B. Gilleran, B. O’Farrell; C. Farrelly, D. Brady, M. Quinn; M. Brady, D. Gallagher; D. Masterson, B. McKeon, J. McGivney; R. Smyth, B. Kavanagh, L. Connerton.
M. Hughes for M. Brady (inj, 46); P. McGee for B. McKeon (54); D. Reynolds for L. Connerton (63); B. Farrell for B. Kavanagh (65).
D. Gallagher (straight, 53); D. Masterson (second yellow, 69).
R. Price; C. O’Driscoll, E. Cadogan, N. Galvin; B. O’Driscoll, J. Loughrey, T. Clancy (Fermoy); A. O’Connor, I. Maguire; K. O’Driscoll, M. Collins, M. Hurley; D. Goulding, P. Kelleher, P. Kerrigan.
S. Powter for B. O’Driscoll (35+1); C. O’Neill for D. Goulding, P. Kelly for K. O’Driscoll (both h-t); J. O’Rourke for P. Kelleher (58); R. Deane for A. O’Connor (70); S. Cronin for C. O’Neill (black, 70+4).
J. Loughrey (straight, 53).
B. Cassidy (Derry).