Allianz Fl Division 3
A couple of important firsts for the Cork footballers on Saturday evening.
A first Páirc Uí Chaoimh victory in five and a half years. A first opening round league win since 2016. A first home win in the competition since February of 2018.
A first league start for Ciarán Sheehan in almost seven years with the 29-year old kicking two first-half points, the second of which was crucially important in bringing an end to a 10-minute Offaly blitzkrieg which yielded six unanswered scores.
Saturday also marked first league appearances for All-Ireland U20 winners Paul Ring, Brian Hartnett, Cathail O’Mahony, and Colm O'Callaghan, the latter three all finding the target as Cork made a winning start to life in Division 3.
Contrary to what the final scoreline suggests, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Ronan McCarthy’s charges on the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh sod.
The seven-point end margin - played out before 2,356 patrons - glosses over what was a difficult and, at times, frustrating first half for the hosts.
Behind by four after 23 minutes, Cork had succeeded in paring the deficit back to the minimum, 0-9 to 0-8, by half-time. Michael Hurley was then sprung from the bench for the second period, the Castlehaven forward delivering five points in a second-half owned by Cork.
Manager McCarthy would later describe him as “unplayable, at times”.
He wasn’t the sole replacement to present a strong argument for a starting berth next time out as John O’Rourke (0-2), Tadhg Corkery (0-1), and Colm O’Callaghan (0-1) all contributed during a second-half in which Cork outscored the visitors by 0-12 to 0-4.
This spring, for Cork, is all about making a swift return to Division 2 so as to avoid any involvement in the new-look second-tier championship.
On that front, it was job done, if not very well done, on Saturday.
“You probably need 10 points to get out of the division. When you don’t win your first game, you are immediately under pressure and a tenseness comes about the next match. In that light, it’s great to win the first game,” said McCarthy. “We have a lot of positives to take from the evening, like the four U20s who started; Peter Murphy came on and made his debut; Tadhg Corkery came on and did well; Ciarán Sheehan is back; Kevin Crowley, Sean Powter, and Sam Ryan are back [from injury]."
A further positive, as noted above, was that Saturday delivered a rare home win for the Cork footballers. “We never had Páirc Uí Chaoimh as a base. I don’t want to overplay this, but there will be a slight benefit as the year goes on. We will have four games here in the league. It is a place we can start calling home. Our home record has been appalling. We only got two points from 14 in the last two years. It was important to get a home victory here, and maybe start to make this some bit of a fortress, if we can.”
Despite Cork winning a couple of early Offaly restarts to establish a 0-3 to 0-1 lead after 11 minutes, the visitors would soon come to dominate Micheál Martin's restarts. The Faithful used their growing dominance around the middle as a platform to mount several successful attacks, Ruairi McNamee, Cian Johnson, Anton Sullivan and Bernard Allen (0-3) kicking six on the bounce to shove Offaly 0-7 to 0-3 in front on 23 minutes.
Sheehan, Ruairi Deane, and three (two frees) from young Cathal O’Mahony brought Cork right up on Offaly’s heels turning around for the second-half. Greater patience in attack, according to McCarthy, was crucial in his team completing the overtaking movement early in the second period.
“We're inclined to try to go back to front too quickly,” continued the Cork manager. “At the start of the second-half, Offaly had all their men inside their own '65. That's great, but that doesn't mean we have to try and force our shot. It's a balance between being patient with the ball but to keep probing and looking for openings. We got that balance a bit better in the second half.”
For John Maughan and Offaly, it is a case of being able to sustain over 70 minutes what they produced during the opening half an hour.
“We were out on our feet [at the finish]. We had expended an awful lot of energy in the first-half. That said, we butchered a lot of chances in the second-half. We had two good goal chances and missed about four frees. Convert half of that and you are possibly winning the game.”
But they didn’t and so it is Cork who are up and running in the race for promotion.
M Hurley (0-5, 0-1 free); C O’Mahony (0-3, 0-2 frees), C Sheehan (0-3, 0-1 free); S White, J O’Rourke (0-2 each); C O’Callaghan, T Corkery, B Hartnett, K Crowley, R Deane (0-1 each).
R McNamee (0-2 frees), B Allen (0-1 free), A Sullivan (0-4 each); C Johnson (0-1).
M Martin; S Powter, S Ryan, P Ring; K Crowley, L O’Donovan, M Taylor; I Maguire, T Clancy; R Deane, S White, B Hartnett; D Gore, C Sheehan, C O’Mahony.
Subs: M Hurley for Gore (HT); J O’Rourke for Clancy (50); C O’Callaghan for O’Mahony (56); T Corkery for O’Donovan (59); P Murphy for Sheehan (67).
P Dunican; D Hogan, E Rigney, N Darby; E Carroll, D Dempsey, J Hayes; C Mangan, M Brazil; S Horan, R McNamee, C McNamee; C Johnson, B Allen, A Sullivan.
Subs: R McEvoy for C McNamee (16 mins); C Donohue for McEvoy (48); M Abbott for C Johnson (57); J Dempsey for Brazil (59); C Donnelly for Horan (64).
Referee: D O’Mahoney (Tipperary).