It’s not often a barnstorming finish leaves both managers dissatisfied, but yesterday’s Allianz Football League Division 3 clash in Páirc Uí Chaoimh was an example from a slim genre.
Cork were nine points ahead at one point of the second half and set fair to maintain their 100 per cent record in the division when Derry rallied.
The northerners hit two late goals to leave two points between the sides and Cork facing a late free destined to land in the danger zone.
The home side held out, but manager Ronan McCarthy pointed at the cloud rather than the silver lining afterwards.
“For 26, 27 minutes of the second half it was a really, really good performance against a side that are difficult to play against.
“The end of the game has put a little bit of a dampener on what was a quality display, particularly in the second half. We were cruising and again we left the opposition back into it at the end. I was poorly sighted for the goals but they looked poor from my vantage point.”
His opposite number was no happier.
“We were beaten by a much better team,” said Derry boss Rory Gallagher. “We showed great heart and desire but it was too late in the game.
“And I thought that even though we gave away a very bad goal from our point of view in the first half, Cork were very good.
“I thought they were patient, playing against us, but then when it opened up in the second half they showed an awful lot of quality.
“I think they’ll be disappointed in the naivete, the way they let us back in.”
Both men gave an accurate diagnosis.
Cork attacked the Blackrock End in the first half, backed by a stiff wind. Derry dropped back in numbers from the off, defending in depth.
Cork were three points up before Shane McGuigan got Derry’s first score, a close-in free, but then the home side turned the screw.
Cork’s Sean Powter somehow overran a good goal chance, with the ball squirting wide, but when Derry’s keeper Odhran Lynch restarted he didn’t find his target, corner-back Padraig McGrogan, and Damien Gore finished to the net.
Gore made it 1-4 to 0-1 but Powter needed to take a shot off the line from Derry’s Danny Tallon on 22 minutes: Odhran Lynch pointed the resulting 45.
Cork led 1-5 to 0-4 at the break when strangely — the game was competitive but didn’t have a nasty edge — a melee broke out, most of the players tangling with each other reaching the dressing-rooms.
On the resumption Cork almost had a goal from Brian Hartnett, but sub Cathail O’Mahony (on for the injured Luke Connolly) and John O’Rourke pushed Cork further ahead before Powter cut through to place O’Rourke for a close-in goal: 2-8 to 0-5 on 45 minutes.
Derry responded — hardworking centre-forward Niall Loughlin managed a first-time finish to the net gave the visitors hope, but Cork swept downfield for Paul Kerrigan to place O’Rourke with a sweet pass for a third goal: 3-11 to 1-8.
However, Derry outscored Cork 2-3 to 0-2 in the final quarter. Emmett Bradley and sub Patrick Kearney hit the goals but they came that bit too late. Shane McGuigan’s last free came in injury-time, so Derry needed a goal from it, but Cork barred the way.
Gallagher took the positives from his side’s rally but acknowledged the quality Cork showed as well: “I have to give them great credit, we came across them last year and they have improved massively. They’re a much better team now — I think you can see that the coaching is working as well, they’re used to playing against defensive football, or they were better at it.”
The win doesn’t guarantee Cork promotion but it leaves them in charge of their own destiny.
“It might be Division Three but it’s not easy to win all your games,” said McCarthy. “We’ve had different challenges and at different times. Offaly caused us problems here in the first game, and Tipperary had a real cut off us last week.
“Against the two northern teams we were playing very controlled, very comfortable in both games against them which is good because they’re different to play against — but we just didn’t finish the games out well.”
For Derry one of the lessons to absorb was to perhaps show more ambition — Gallagher was disappointed his team didn’t go after the Cork kick-out, for instance, but at times there was only one Derry player in the Cork half, even when the northerners were well in arrears during the second half.
Little wonder Gallagher said that a two-point margin wasn’t an accurate reflection of the proceedings, adding that Cork had been seven or eight points better than Derry.
In the home corner one of the principal takeaways was the importance of Sean Powter to the red and white cause.
The Douglas man’s dynamism was central to much of what Cork did - he took a Galway shot off the line in the first half, his surge was the basis of the first Cork goal, he set up the second with a powerful burst through the middle, and Derry’s renaissance began as soon as he was substituted.
Ronan McCarthy was musing after the game about what Cork might have achieved with a fully fit Powter in the last couple of years, a train of thought which was probably shared by many of the home supporters strolling home. Even at this stage of the year his importance to Cork for 2020 can’t be overstated.
Scorers for Cork: J O’Rourke (2-2); D Gore (1 free)(1-3); C O’Mahony (2 frees)(0-4); L Connolly (1 free)(0-2); E McSweeney, M Hurley (0-1).
Scorers for Derry: S McGuigan (frees)(0-6); N Loughlin (1 free)(1-1), E Bradley (1-1); P Kearney (1-0); C McWilliams (free), O Lynch (45), P Cassidy (0-1 each).
Referee: F Kelly (Longford).
The game in 60 seconds
IT MATTERED: John O’Rourke’s second goal came after Paul Kerrigan picked him out with an outside-of-the-boot free from well out the field. O’Rourke took his time and found the net for a goal that seemed initially to be an illustrative flourish, but in the end it proved to be the match-winner.
CAN’T IGNORE: The result. It’s not the first time that Cork have had to hang on late in a game, but each time they’ve managed to dig out a result. Yesterday would have been a devastating game to lose, given how far ahead of the opposition they were on the day, but Ronan McCarthy will know well that his players need to work on closing games out more comfortably.
SIDELINE SMARTS: Rory Gallagher’s Derry played very deep, but Cork showed the patience necessary to pick their way past their opponents. Ronan McCarthy’s side ran hard at Derry in the second half, with Sean Powter’s incursions critical to their win - credit Ronan McCarthy for setting Cork up with an attacking half-back platform.
MAIN MAN: Derry were looking to Chrissy McKaigue and Niall Loughlin to drive them on, while Ian Maguire and two-goal John O’Rourke caught the eye for Cork. The most impressive player on view was Sean Powter, however, whose pace and power - in both defence and attack - were hugely impressive. Little wonder Cork are so focused on keeping him healthy for the summer.
PHYSIO ROOM: Ruairi Deane picked up a slight injury last Thursday night but Ronan McCarthy expects him back in a couple of weeks. Luke Connolly and Liam O’Donovan were substituted before half-time and need to be assessed. McCarthy added that Tadhg Corkery and Brian Hurley are close to returning.
MAN IN BLACK: Fergal Kelly of Louth handled the game well.
WHAT’S NEXT: Cork host Louth in a fortnight, Derry host Longford.