The relief on each maroon-clad player as they disappeared under the main stand told us how fortunate they were to have avoided an opening day defeat and there was certainly no disguising the collective disappointment of the visitors to Salthill. That Colm O’Neill had failed to steer over a match-winning free with the second last kick of the game only compounded that deep sense of opportunity lost.
O’Neill, though, certainly wasn’t the villain at Pearse Stadium. Quite the opposite, in fact. Introduced three-quarters of an hour into this Division 2 clash, the 28-year old had five points to his name, four of which arrived from open play, when called upon to stand over said injury-time free.
Somewhat cruelly, it was Galway’s Barry McHugh - six from six in his dead ball duties - who conceded the free when touching possession on the ground 45 metres from his own goal. The subsequent groan from the home contingent in the crowd of 3,387 suggested defeat was inevitable.
Galway subs Cillian McDaid and Cathal Sweeney had landed a point each during the second and third minute of additional time to level proceedings for the sixth occasion and there was to be no dramatic late winner as O’Neill’s effort tailed right and wide.
In truth, it shouldn’t have come down to O’Neill’s kick nor should the Cork advantage have been as small as two points heading into second-half stoppages.
Their interval lead of 1-3 to 0-5 was blighted by nine first-half wides and an Aidan Walsh goal chance kept out by Galway ‘keeper Rory Lavelle. And as selector Eoin O’Neill pointed out afterwards, there were several more scoring opportunities which fell shy of the target.
Seanie Powter dropped a scoreable effort into the hands of Lavelle in the first minute of the second-half as wasteful Cork picked up where they left off. Six further wides were clocked and Luke Connolly could only put his hands to his head in sheer bewilderment after blasting wide a perfect goal chance on 58 minutes.
Referee Sean Hurson called back the play for a foul on Kerrigan as he put Connolly in the clear and O’Neill tapped over the free to tie the game at 0-10 to 1-7. This represented O’Neill’s second since his introduction and it was his accuracy, along with a fine score from fellow sub John O’Rourke, that cancelled out four-in-a-row from McHugh (0-2), Danny Cummins and Paul Conroy at the start of the second period.
Gary O’Donnell edged the hosts back in front after O’Neill had countered a Danny Cummins free, but two further minors from the Cork sub, sandwiching as they did a superb individual score from Ruairi Deane, sent the visiting party 1-11 to 0-12 clear entering second-half stoppages.
There was to be more frustration at the death as Brian O’Driscoll received a second yellow card following an altercation with Peter Cooke.
“There is a huge sense of disappointment. There is a feeling we left it behind really,” remarked Ruairi Deane. “The wides are disappointing and maybe for some of them it was bad decision-making.”
That wasn’t the case early on as Mark Collins, Ian Maguire and Aidan Walsh flooded the supply lines into the inside pair of Paul Kerrigan and Niall Coakley. And although both worked hard – Kerrigan dispossessed McHugh deep in his own half approaching the break – they tallied five wides between them in the opening period.
Kerrigan set up Connolly for Cork’s opening score after 16 minutes and while the Cork captain added a goal two minutes later following good approach play by Powter and Walsh, the Rebels were time and again left frustrated in front of goal.
An opportunity lost, yes, but far worse would have been had they squandered both points on offer.
B McHugh (0-6, frees); D Cummins (0-3, 1 free); G O’Donnell, P Conroy, D Kyne, C Sweeney, C McDaid (0-1 each).
C O’Neill (0-5, 1 free); P Kerrigan (1-0); M Collins (0-2); R Deane, N Coakley (0-1 free), L Connolly, J O’Rourke (0-1 each).
R Lavelle; D Kyne, D Walsh, L Burke; G O’Donnell, G Bradshaw, J Heaney; P Conroy, M Day; T Flynn, D Comer, E Brannigan; D Cummins, S Armstrong, B McHugh.
C McDaid for Brannigan (43); M Daly for Armstrong (45); E Tierney for Flynn (51); C Sweeney for Heaney (70); P Cooke for Day (71).
R Price; Tom Clancy, K Crowley, J McLoughlin; C Dorman, J Loughrey, Tomás Clancy; A Walsh, R Deane; L Connolly, M Collins, I Maguire, P Kerrigan, S Powter, N Coakley.
C O’Neill for Coakley (45); J O’Rourke for Powter (47); B O’Driscoll for Dorman (52); D O’Connor for Connolly (59); B O’Driscoll for Maguire (66); G Murphy for Kerrigan (72).
S Hurson (Tyrone).
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