Arriving at a venue his players were unfamiliar with, to take on something of the unknown in Leitrim on heavy underfoot conditions, Ronan McCarthy knew this would enlighten him further on the attitude of his troops — and their appetite for the grind of Division 3.
The response in Carrick-on-Shannon yesterday was one that pleased him greatly.
Although the scoreboard showed a wind-assisted Cork just two clear after half an hour, the visitors were rarely troubled in picking up their second win of the league and, in the process, moving to top spot in the division.
Having failed to find a way past outstanding Leitrim goalkeeper Diarmuid McKiernan with the first two goal openings they created, Cork eventually had the umpire leaning for the green flag when two minutes into first-half stoppages Ciarán Sheehan dispatched to the net a sweetly constructed move involving Ian Maguire, Tom Clancy, and Ruairí Deane.
Sandwiched between points from Sheehan and Clancy, Cork’s advantage was seven at the break (1-7 to 0-3). It could — and should — have been so much more.
Either side of the interval, first-half substitute Luke Connolly was unable to match Sheehan’s finishing, but not even four missed goal opportunities or seven first-half wides saw Cork dragged into any semblance of an arm wrestle on an afternoon ripe for such.
The gulf in class had been evident from early on, even allowing for the amount of mistakes made by the visitors and the frequency with which they cheaply coughed up possession. Summing up an error-ridden opening half, Cork’s Liam O’Donovan intercepted a poorly kicked Leitrim pass only to immediately hand possession to Leitrim’s Shane Moran, who, in turn, gifted the ball straight back to O’Donovan.
Such mistakes were absent from Cork’s play during the second half, an air of inevitability having long since descended over this fixture.
“On paper, yes we are a better and stronger team, but the attitude had to be right, physically and mentally. We would have drilled that home during our team meeting before the game. This was about attitude, coming into a difficult venue and difficult pitch, in very, very challenging weather conditions. If you weren’t up for the fight today, you were going to be found out very quickly,” said McCarthy.
We were up for the fight. We matched them physically from the start and then, as the game went on, we let our football do the talking. We kept them at arm’s length for most of the game.
The manager continued: “We were able to bring a lot of firepower off the bench to bring us home. My only criticism is that we should have been further ahead at half-time. We again didn’t take the clear-cut goal chances we created. We had 1-7 on the board at half-time; 2-10 would have been a reasonable return for the chances we had.
“We want to be classed as a top-eight or top-four team. And if you are in that bracket, you must be clinical and ruthless when you have the opportunity. We’ll keep working on it and just make sure we execute these opportunities when they come in the future.”
A most mundane affair was the second half. Cork were far more patient in possession and consequently, far less wasteful in front of the opposition posts.
Luke Connolly, as Michael Hurley did against Offaly, kicked five points upon his introduction. His standout contribution was an audacious fisted point with his back to goal. Clubmate Paul Kerrigan, another to find the target, also impressed off the bench.
As for the home side, who were far too reliant on Keith Beirne for scores, manager Terry Hyland is glad to be done with the two counties he perceives as being the strongest in the division.
“You are playing a team who were close to being top four in the country last year. We were wrestling to get control of the ball out around the middle, even from our own kick-outs. We weren’t getting enough fluency on the ball. I did feel, too, that we maybe hid a little bit and didn’t push out on them when we should have, especially when they were a man down (Luke Connolly was sin-binned early in the second half).
“We are trying to consolidate our place in Division 3. We are a long way from being safe in this division.” Much the same as Cork have a fair bit of road to travel before potentially achieving their goal of promotion. The early signs are positive. The task now is to stay the course as the strength of the opposition picks up.
L Connolly (0-5, 0-2 frees, 0-1 mark); C Sheehan (1-2); C O’Mahony (0-3, 0-1 free); T Clancy, T Corkery, J O’Rourke, S White, P Kerrigan (0-1 each).
K Beirne (0-7, 0-5 frees); E Sweeney, R Mulvey (0-1 each).
M Martin; K Crowley, T Clancy, L O’Donovan; T Corkery, S Powter, M Taylor; I Maguire, B Hartnett; R Deane, S White, J O’Rourke; M Hurley, C Sheehan, C O’Mahony.
L Connolly for Hurley (30 mins); P Kerrigan for O’Mahony, K O’Driscoll for O’Rourke (both 56); C Kiely for Powter (58); R Harkin for Sheehan (67).
D McKiernan; F McTague, P Maguire, C Reynolds; C McGloin, J Gilheany, A Flynn; O McCaffrey, D Wrynn; D Flynn, S Quinn, D McGovern; D Rooney, S Moran, K Beirne.
R Mulvey for McTague (HT); P Dolan for McCaffrey (45); E Sweeney for Rooney (52); R O’Rourke for Gilheany (54, inj); O McLoughlin for Moran (67).
P Maguire (Longford).