Strange one, this. Very strange.
On the drive over to Páirc Uí Rinn yesterday afternoon, former Dublin footballer Ciarán Whelan was to be heard on RTÉ Radio lamenting as “irrelevant” the Dublin-Tyrone clash in Omagh. Now, if a match between two teams still alive in the championship was being described as “a dead-rubber”, it didn’t exactly whet the appetite for a game between two counties whose championship ambitions had ground to a halt a fortnight ago, not to mind that the heavens had opened on Leeside an hour or so before throw-in, making playing conditions less than ideal.
In the end, greater entertainment was provided at Páirc Uí Rinn, although we’ll stop short of saying the crowd of 2,356 got better value for their €25 than those at Healy Park.
The second half, although it dragged for certain periods, was rescued by the fact that it provided more goals (four) than it did points from play (three), climaxing with five minutes of injury-time where Cork almost snatched an equaliser, while Roscommon were reduced to 14 as they had used their full complement of subs when Tadhg O’Rourke saw black. It was the last of 16 cards flashed by referee Noel Mooney.
The visitors held out, the three-point win representing their first victory of the championship since June 16. And although their end-of-year accounts show they got the better of Mayo and Galway in Castlebar and Salthill respectively, one would imagine Cork will take more from this summer given the extent to which they troubled Kerry, Dublin, and Tyrone, the latter a game they could so easily have come out on top in.
Still, facts are facts, and Ronan McCarthy made no effort to disguise that his team had lost four of their six championship outings.
“You stand back from it and we played four championship games against top sides and haven’t come out on the right side in any of them. There’s a message in that. There’s a lot to do and we’ll certainly do it,” said the Cork manager.
The chief learnings he’s taken from their Super 8 experience?
“We’ve shown in big games against really top teams that we have the quality to match them. From the point of view of our physical development, experience, and game-management, we have a bit to go.
“While our strength and conditioning has certainly stepped up massively this year, we’ve a bit to go there, as well. We’ll put in that work over the winter and make sure we bring guys to the next level in relation to next year.”
He added: “When we don’t give the ball away, we’re a really good side. Physically, we probably need to be a bit more imposing, we need to make contact more all around the pitch.
“The disappointing thing is we’ve played patches of really good football against top teams, but not done it consistently enough throughout these games. That’s part of the process and the development.
“You keep this group together again, we’ll have very little turnover in players, work as hard as we did this year and hopefully, we’ll see the benefits coming into next year.”
Cork motored five clear in the pouring rain after just three minutes, a pair of Luke Connolly frees sandwiching a Mark Collins goal, the opening green flag stemming from a Darren O’Malley restart kicked straight to Connolly.
Roscommon were back level on 28 minutes, Cathal Cregg putting through Brian Stack for a goal. But Cork’s response was emphatic, the home side raising a second green flag within 50 seconds of having been breached. Eoghan McSweeney had point on his mind when putting boot to ball, but his effort didn’t have the necessary legs, landing into the Roscommon danger area where Connolly was on hand to punch to the net.
Behind by 2-5 to 1-7 at the break, Anthony Cunningham’s charges hit the front for the first time in proceedings on 53 minutes, Conor Cox and Andrew Glennon teeing up Stack for his second goal of the contest.
The game’s next three scores were also three-pointers. First up was Enda Smith, but no more than they did in the first-half, Cork swept down the field and responded with a green flag of their own, James Loughrey, for the second game in a row, finding the net. That left the scoreboard reading 3-8 to 3-7 in favour of Roscommon on the hour mark.
Shane Killoran bagged Roscommon goal number four on 69 minutes and although they caused a fright or two in the opposition goalmouth thereafter, Cork could not locate an equaliser.
Seven goals and 16 cards don’t exactly tie with a game which carried such little meaning. A strange 70 minutes at Páirc Uí Rinn, but, at times, an enjoyable one too.
B Stack (2-0); C Cox (0-5, 0-5 frees); E Smith, S Killoran (1-1 each); A Glennon (0-1 free), D Smith (0-1 each).
L Connolly (1-3, 0-3 frees); M Collins (1-2, 0-2 frees); J Loughrey (1-0); J O’Rourke, K O’Driscoll, R Deane, S Sherlock (0-1 each).
D O’Malley; D Murray, C Daly, G Patterson; N Daly, R Daly, C Hussey; T O’Rourke, S Killoran; B Stack, C Cregg, N Kilroy; E Smith, C Cox, A Glennon.
C Compton for N Daly (half-time, bc); A Lyons for Hussey, F Cregg for C Cregg (both 45 mins); D Smith for Kilroy (55 mins); D Murtagh for Glennon (57); H Darcy for Compton (69, bc).
M Martin; K Flahive, J Loughrey, T Clancy; S Cronin, S White, M Taylor; I Maguire, K O’Hanlon; E McSweeney, R Deane, K O’Driscoll; P Kerrigan, M Collins, L Connolly.
J O’Rourke for Kerrigan (bc), M Hurley for McSweeney (both half-time); B Hurley for Collins (57); C Kiely for Cronin (59); R O’Toole for Clancy (63); S Sherlock for Connolly (70).
N Mooney (Cavan).