On the last two occasions the Cork footballers visited Semple Stadium, they left perplexed at just how far behind they had fallen from Gaelic football’s elite.
All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers Round 2B CORK 2-12 LIMERICK 0-10
Last month, they were shocked by underdogs Tipperary in the Munster SFC semi-final whilst last July, in Brian Cuthbert’s final game, they surrendered meekly against Kildare in the final round of the 2015 qualifiers.
On Saturday evening, however, despite the game being of poor and uneventful fare, they will be thrilled to be through to the next round of the qualifiers after an easy win over Limerick.
And they will be equally satisfied that midfield iron man Alan O’Connor is back in their team after sustaining a horrific leg injury last summer in that ill-fated game against the Lilywhites.
O’Connor was as solid as a rock throughout Saturday’s game, but up front was where the game was won.
Cork’s terrific trio of Mark Collins (who scored 0-5) and Paul Kerrigan (1-3), and young full-forward Peter Kelleher ensured a safe passage through, accounting for 2-8 of the team’s 2-12 tally.
Worryingly, though, they also missed a number of goal chances which could militate against them next time out.
Limerick, in contrast, depended on Ian Ryan to hit three frees and one from play to keep them in touch. But aside from those scores, Iain Corbett’s two-point cameo from the bench, and Darragh Treacy’s brace from midfield, the Shannonsiders were sorely lacking potency in the scoring stakes.
After the game, Cork manager Peadar Healy spoke only to TV, but speaking to the print media his selector Eoin O’Neill stated they were happy with the outcome.
“We had a couple of fellas coming back who hadn’t played in a while and they got through a good bit of the game.
“We’ve been a bit unlucky with a couple of injuries but those guys have come back for us. We worked very hard, we got our reward from that. We were a bit more solid defensively which was good. You take those things out of it.”
One of those was O’Connor, who many feared would not play for Cork again after his serious injury against Kildare last year. But the Cork selector welcomed the competition for places that O’Connor’s return brings.
“Fellas are coming in, putting up their hand and that’s what we want. You know what you’re getting with Alan, he’s won a lot with Cork over the years. We’ve missed him when he hasn’t been available. He has a presence and he’s a leader. He has experience and we have a lot of young guys in our panel. I’m delighted for Alan – he’s worked very hard to get out there. He knows how to play in that role, the more strings you have to your bow, the better.
“We’ve said it all along – getting these few extra fellas back makes it that little bit harder. Brian O’Driscoll was very disappointed at half-time (to be replaced) but we could bring on a fella of the quality of Sean Powter. That’s what we want – we want options. That’s a good thing from our point of view.”
Cork’s breakthrough came in the 14th minute when championship debutant Kelleher latched onto a long Paul Kerrigan delivery to slot a left- footed shot to the corner of the net after his first effort had been blocked.
But despite creating three more goal chances early on they were not able to convert them or put Limerick away. This spate of errors included a Colm O’Neill penalty in the fifth minute which Limerick goalkeeper Donal O’Sullivan saved.
Cork led 1-6 to 0-4 at the break having dominated the first-half. And for most of the second-half there was an increasing air of inevitability about the outcome. Iain Corbett and Ian Ryan did score points but the Shannonsiders needed a goal and one never came.
Instead, Kerrigan and Collins – Cork’s two best players kept the scoreboard ticking over and Kerrigan finally put the game to bed when he hit his team’s second goal in the 72nd minute to guarantee Cork’s place in today’s Round 3B qualifier draw was assured long before the final whistle.
For Limerick and their manager John Brudair, there is acute disappointment that they never put in a performance of note.
“From the get go, Cork got scoring opportunities and we seemed to be chasing the game the whole time,” he said.
“They probably had five or six goal chances they didn’t take. We’re lacking certain qualities at the moment – we have no massive height in midfield, it puts us under massive pressure to win primary ball. There’s an onus to go short and that puts fierce pressure on the kick-outs. Cork squeezed that well today, with Alan O’Connor back it gave them a good solid platform. We struggled to get our hands on the ball and when we did get it we gave it away cheaply.”
R Price; C O’Driscoll, E Cadogan, N Galvin; T Clancy, J Loughrey, B O’Driscoll; A O’Connor, I Maguire; P Kerrigan (1-03), M Collins (0-05), K O’Driscoll; C O’Neill (0-1f), P Kelleher (1-0), L Connolly (0-1f).
S Powter for B O’Driscoll (h.t.), D Goulding for O’Neill (46), J O’Rourke (0-1) for Connolly (49), R Deane for O’Connor (60), M Hurley (0-1) for K O’Driscoll (65), P Kelly for Kelleher (68).
D O’Sullivan; P Browne, S Cahill, J McCarthy; P Ranahan, S O’Dea, B Fanning; S Buckley (0-1), D Treacy (0-2); G Noonan, P Nash, T Childs; H Bourke, I Ryan (0-4, 3f), S McSweeney (0-1f).
I Corbett (0-2) for Childs (27), E Hogan for McSweeney (47), P White for Ranahan (52), P Scanlan for Bourke (55), J Naughton for Nash (63), K Ryan for O’Dea (69).
N Mooney (Cavan).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved