Where Galway look forward to a second knockout fixture on home soil in the space of a week, Cork’s calendar is worryingly bare.
As the final whistles simultaneously sounded at Salthill and Thurles yesterday afternoon, Cork’s spring ground to a shuddering halt.
Having begun the day ahead of both Galway and Tipperary in the Group A standings, the county’s third league defeat, coupled with Tipperary’s win over Waterford, meant an end to Cork’s league involvement.
What it also means is that the county will not play another competitive fixture between now and their Munster SHC opener at home to Limerick on May 10. That’s a 70-day layoff, one which Kieran Kingston accepted was less than ideal.
No question but management would have much preferred at least one more league outing so as to move closer to their starting championship team. For while there is a degree of clarity as to what five players will likely fill the jerseys numbered five through nine, in every other line there are positions still to be nailed down.
As for Galway, Shane O’Neill’s charges had been in dire trouble with 20 minutes remaining and on course for a fourth successive defeat. It appeared they would have nothing but pride to play for when Tipperary visited for this weekend’s Round 3 re-fixture.
What happened next was Cork lost Robbie O’Flynn to a straight red card for a high challenge on Fintan Burke. Brian Concannon then goaled three minutes later to send the home side back in front, a lead they would hold all the way to the line and one that was fattened by four unanswered injury-time points.
The five-point win resurrects their league campaign and, in the process, turns this Sunday’s visit of the All-Ireland champions into a winner-takes-all clash.
Considering all this was done without the services of Joe Canning, Galway’s spring, all of a sudden, has become a great deal brighter than it was when Tim O’Mahony found the net on 50 minutes to propel a Cork team backed by the remnants of Storm Jorge into a winning position.
“We were on the receiving end of a one-point defeat last week so to come out on the winning side of a tough league game is great,” said Shane O’Neill.
“Looking at the two halves, it was probably our use of the ball that was the difference. In the first half, we didn’t use it as well as we should have. In the second, we used it brilliantly against the wind.
“We have a tasty match against Tipp now. What we have been trying to create over the last couple of months is a competitive squad. There were five subs today and they all did extremely well.”
Among those replacements was Evan Niland, the 2015 All-Ireland minor winner converting two injury-time frees. Galway’s advantage stood at the minimum — 2-14 to 1-16 — entering injury-time, but Niland’s dead-ball accuracy, and a point each from Conor Cooney and the returning David Burke, propelled the hosts to their first league victory since January 26.
What displeased and frustrated O’Neill was his team’s first-half wide count of 11. Galway’s shockingly high number of misses equalled the 11 times they hit the target in the opening 35 minutes. And considering the strength of the gale blowing through Pearse Stadium, their interval lead of 1-10 to 0-10 was anything but a healthy one.
The Galway manager reckoned his players left three green flags behind them, the first of those being Jason Flynn’s shot hit directly at Anthony Nash two minutes in. Flynn, mind you, made no mistake when presented with a second chance on 23 minutes, the inside forward rounding Nash after a lovely looping pass from Concannon.
That score, arriving after three unanswered points from Aidan Harte, Cooney (free), and Adrian Tuohey, shoved the home side 1-7 to 0-4 ahead. But no bigger would the gap grow.
Down the other end, Aidan Walsh, Shane Kingston, Bill Cooper, Conor Lehane, and Patrick Horgan (two frees) all split the posts to leave Cork just three in arrears at the break. It was a first half noticeably devoid of any sense of intensity or urgency. The error count was through the roof on either side.
A Tim O’Mahony sideline and Darragh Fitzgibbon missile from out the field were the pick of the early second-half scores as Cork, assisted by the elements, cut the deficit to one — 1-12 to 0-14 — by the 46th minute. And although Cathal Mannion (free) subsequently doubled the Tribesmen’s advantage, Cork hit the front when Tim O’Mahony, played through by Robbie O’Flynn, drilled the sliotar past Éanna Murphy.
But there followed O’Flynn’s sending off and Concannon’s goal to swing the tide back in Galway’s direction.
“This was a championship game in all but name. We knew we needed to win to get into a quarter-final. That is what we came here for, so disappointed not to get a result,” said Kieran Kingston.
“We would have been happy at half-time. We went a point up in the second half so disappointing not to close it out. From what I saw, we wouldn’t have any complaints [with the red card]. When you go down to 14 men, it is always challenging. Galway closed it out that bit better. We struggled in the last 10 minutes, we just seemed to totally run out of legs (Cork didn’t score beyond the 64th minute).”
Kingston added: “I think the league has been good for us in terms of what we have learned, more than anything else.”
The problem is it’ll be May 10 before any of that learning can be put to meaningful use.
Scorers for Galway: B Concannon (1-2); C Mannion (0-5, 0-3 frees); J Flynn (1-1); C Cooney (0-3, 0-2 frees); E Niland (0-2 frees), N Burke (0-2 each); A Tuohey, A Harte, D Burke (0-1 each).
Scorers for Cork: P Horgan (0-9, 0-9 frees); T O’Mahony (1-1, 0-1 sc); S Kingston (0-2); D Fitzgibbon, C Lehane, B Cooper, A Walsh (0-1 each).
GALWAY: É Murphy; D Morrissey, G McInerney, S Loftus; A Harte, S Cooney, F Burke; C Mannion, P Mannion; N Burke, C Cooney, A Tuohey; C Whelan, J Flynn, B Concannon.
Subs: D Burke for N Burke (39 mins); S Linnane for P Mannion (51); E Niland for F Burke (57); TJ Brennan for Harte (60, inj); C Walsh for Concannon (58).
CORK: A Nash; C Spillane, E Cadogan, N O’Leary; B Cooper, T O’Mahony, S O’Leary Hayes; D Fitzgibbon, A Walsh; R O’Flynn, S Harnedy, C Lehane; M Coleman, S Kingston, P Horgan.
Subs: C Cahalane for Walsh (HT, inj); J O’Connor for Lehane (70).
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).
The game in 60 seconds
The sending off of Robbie O’Flynn after 52 minutes. Cork had overturned a three-point interval deficit to lead by 1-14 to 1-13 at the time of the red card. Momentum shifted to Galway from that point forward.
Galway’s dreadful first-half wide count of 11. This litany of misses contrasted sharply with Cork who had not a single wide in the opening 35 minutes. Galway were fortunate their first-half wastefulness did not come back to haunt them.
Encouraging to see Galway, minus Joe Canning, come out on top in such a tight contest. 2017 All-Ireland winning captain David Burke also got his first minutes in a maroon shirt in 2020.
Cork, as a result of their league elimination, will now go 10 weeks without a competitive fixture. “No, it is not ideal,” said Kieran Kingston of the long layoff in front of them.
The Galway full-back line was excellent, particularly in the second-half when facing the gale. Darren Morrissey and Gearoid McInerney can be most pleased with their day’s work.
Aidan Walsh was withdrawn during the interval break because of concussion. The incident which led to Walsh becoming concussed occurred right before half-time. Joe Canning’s ongoing calf injury meant he was absent for the second weekend-in-a-row. Shane O’Neill confirmed afterwards that Canning will not be available for Tipperary’s visit this Sunday.
Kieran Kingston commented afterwards that his team “seemed to totally run out of legs” in the closing stages. It was an accurate observation, and yet Kingston and his management made only two changes in total - the first, which was injury-enforced, came at half-time, the other arriving at the beginning of second-half stoppages.
Fergal Horgan was correct in his decision to send off Robbie O’Flynn.
Cork’s next competitive fixture - their Munster SHC opener at home to Limerick - is 10 weeks in the distance. Galway welcome Tipperary to Pearse Stadium on Sunday for their rescheduled Group A game. Winner advances to league quarter-final. In the event of a draw, Tipperary, on account of their superior score difference, progress.