Rebels ready for main event

IT’S not the trophy they crave, but yesterday’s NFL Division Two final success in Croke Park still gives the Cork footballers a nice fillip as they crank up their championship preparations.

In a match largely devoid of passionate combat, Cork were clearly superior. Four weeks previously Monaghan had produced the winning quota of fire and brimstone yet Conor Counihan’s men firmly reversed that outcome here. Whereas Cork were inhibited in the tight confines of Scotstown, yesterday they prospered in Croke Park’s open plains.

The hard yards were made in the first half and when Cork retreated to their dressing room at the interval they had the comfort of a six-point lead, 0-10 to 0-4. What was more telling was the manner in which they were performing and the simultaneous ailments afflicting Monaghan all over the pitch.

The Ulster men did retrieve the situation in the second half to bridge the gap to three points at one stage. But Cork kept them at arm’s length and their winning prospects were never jeopardised. There may have been little at stake with both counties already having pinned down promotion. Yet with summer looming large, Cork set down a decent marker whereas Seamus McEnaney will be anxious at his side’s lack of prowess four weeks from an Ulster showdown with Derry.

The shape of the game was drafted within the opening quarter as Cork moved 0-5 to 0-1 ahead. Paul Kerrigan launched proceedings in the second minute by stepping on the gas before converting off his left, and inside duo Donncha O’Connor and Daniel Goulding then showed up with a brace apiece. There had been a strong whiff of a goal chance as well in the 12th minute but Patrick Kelly’s shot had the sting taken out of it by a brilliant intervention by Dick Clerkin.

Already problems were surfacing for Monaghan. The pressure points they exerted against Cork back in March were not repeated here as the Rebels displayed huge improvements. Paul Finlay made scant headway at centre-forward with Ger Spillane sticking to him well. At midfield Dick Clerkin and Owen Lennon never looked like the ruling duo, with Nicholas Murphy imposing in the air and Alan O’Connor wholehearted alongside him.

The key concern for Monaghan was that the exchanges were extremely loose, with Cork having the time and space to launch swift passing movements from deep. Monaghan’s tactic of instructing Rory Woods to roam from the edge of the square also backfired as Michael Shields’ athleticism enabled him to get involved in several plays.

Cork landed some excellent points before the interval. Goulding showed adept finishing off both right and left while the half-back pair of Graham Canty and Spillane brought their attacking instincts to bear by racing forward to point.

Monaghan raided for points before the break before the interval through Finlay and Conor McManus, but critically their goal opening in the 30th minute yielded no reward as Alan Quirke soundly beat away Mark Downey’s snap shot.

The incline facing Monaghan was steep at the interval and necessitated a shuffling of the deck for the second half. Finlay was drafted in to staunch the midfield flow, Woods operated as a conventional centre-forward, Lennon moved to the wing and Raymond Ronaghan came on at full-forward. For a time there was a reward from those ploys with Tommy Freeman lofting over two points while Finlay guided over a free. Cork were looking out of sync but turned matters around midway through the second half.

Ray Carey, who emerges from the spring with a splendid reputation, and Anthony Lynch ensured Cork were never going to cave defensively and, more importantly, concede a goal. Pearse O’Neill popped up regularly during his cameo to offer a reminder of his substantial worth to the team and Patrick Kelly continued to intelligently link play from centre-forward.

On the scoreboard Cork got back on track with points from O’Neill, Goulding and Kelly that inserted daylight between the teams again at 0-13 to 0-7 by the 57th minute. Monaghan replied with Finlay, more effective at midfield, lofting over a right-footed beauty and Freeman thumping a free from distance. Alan O’Connor embellished his grafting with a deserved point for Cork in the 61st minute which Monaghan defender Dermot McArdle cancelled out after a sortie upfield soon after.

Any lingering doubts about the outcome were dispelled in the 65th minute when Cork goaled. It was a strike that had a Nemo theme in its creation and execution, with Paul Kerrigan’s lung-bursting run from the right flank opening the way for James Masters to kick a delightful drop shot to the net. The consolation burst for Monaghan was provided by Freeman and Finlay points yet that was never going to halt Cork getting the pre-championship silverware boost.

Scorers for Cork: D Goulding 0-5 (0-1f), J Masters 1-0, D O’Connor 0-3 (0-1f, 0-1 ‘45), P Kerrigan, G Canty, G Spillane, P O’Neill, P Kelly, A O’Connor 0-1 each.

Monaghan: P Finlay (0-2f), T Freeman (0-1f) 0-4 each, C McManus 0-2 (0-1 ‘45), M Downey, D McArdle 0-1 each.

CORK: A Quirke; A Lynch, M Shields, R Carey; G Canty, G Spillane, N O’Leary; A O’Connor, N Murphy; P O’Flynn, P Kelly, P Kerrigan; J Masters, D O’Connor, D Goulding.

Subs: P O’Neill for O’Flynn (49), J Hayes for D O’Connor (51), F Goold for A O’Connor (68), C McCarthy for Goulding (71), J Miskella for Kelly (71).

MONAGHAN: S Duffy; V Corey, D Mone, D McArdle; D Hughes, G McQuaid, D Freeman; D Clerkin, O Lennon; C McManus, P Finlay, S Gollogly; M Downey, R Woods, T Freeman.

Subs: JP Mone for Mone (27), R Ronaghan for Gollogly (half-time), C Hanratty for Lennon (49), G McEnaney for D Freeman (51), K Hughes for Downey (55), S McAleer for Woods (67).

Referee: Syl Doyle (Wexford)


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