Leaders Shelbourne have two games in hand over Cork, but City showed such fire and fury in their football as to raise expectation levels after an eventful match.
Cork scored twice in each half and in the process showed the energy and drive of a team that was very focused and brimming with confidence. There was a verve and a drive to their game which meant Drogheda were almost always under pressure.
Two goals merely hinted at the superiority that Cork showed in a first half that quickly developed into the John and George roadshow. The centre-forward duo were dynamic and deadly in their work, and Drogheda’s defence was constantly on red alert.
O’Flynn stretched them with the pace and power of his running, his persistence a constant source of aggravation. Toss in the imaginative play of O’Callaghan and the subtlety of his passing and it was easy to understand just why Drogheda struggled.
A typical example of the Cork pair at their best arrived as early as the eighth minute, when O’Flynn jumped high to head-on a goal kick from Devine and found O’Callaghan. He swivelled this way and that to disguise his pass beautifully, before O’Flynn surged clear to force a good save from Gary Rogers.
There was more to follow. O’Callaghan again surprised the Drogheda defence when he played a free from near half-way into O’Flynn’s chest. He was under pressure from two defenders at the edge of the box but held them off and swerved a left-foot shot into the top of the net.
This goal arrived in the 20th minute, at a stage when Cork were in full flow. One criticism was that they tended to over-emphasise the long ball approach at times.
This was scarcely surprising in view of the impact of O’Flynn and O’Callaghan, but there were times when Cork defenders should not have by-passed midfield, and there was little penetration on either flank.
As a result, Cork’s approach was in many ways too predictable, their challenge too narrowly focused through the front two. It was not surprising that their second goal, in the 31st minute, again stemmed from O’Callaghan’s vision of the game.
The free was again from the right-hand side of the pitch but from a much more advanced position. O’Callaghan’s delivery was perfect and Dan Murray’s run across the penalty area was timed precisely. His header to the net was clean and decisive.
This was football that in concept and execution was well in advance of anything produced by Drogheda. They found it difficult to make any impact up front, with Dan Murray and Derek Coughlan in dominant mood, and although Darren Beesley played some attractive and constructive football, their threat lacked the urgency of Cork’s best work.
So Cork contained their threatened revival with a degree of comfort, before they suddenly exploded to once again show the ruthless finishing touch that elevated them to a different level. Again it was O’Flynn who showed his eye for goal with a typically forceful strike, as he ran on to Greg O’Halloran’s pass to shoot from 18 yards.
Drogheda were not given any time to dwell on their worsening situation, for Cork were back in less than a minute. Again it was O’Flynn, hustling Aidan Lynch into surrendering the ball and playing a near pass to his partner-in-chief O’Callaghan.
He delayed his pass cleverly to allow substitute Conor O’Grady to arrive on time to rifle home goal number four. Their goals were due reward for a performance that was high on commitment and passion and distinguished by their exciting strikers, the deadly duo of John and George.
CORK CITY (4-4-2): Devine; Horgan, Coughlan, Murray, Woods; Doyle (O’Grady 73), C. T. O’Brien, O’Halloran (K. Murray 88), Casey; O’Callaghan (C. P. O’Brien 81), O’Flynn.
DROGHEDA UNITED (4-4-2): Rogers; O’Connor, Scully, Lynch, Gray; Gallagher, Tierney (Flanagan 46), Beesley (Cronin 81), Kelly; O’Brien (Quinless 63), Myler.
Referee: I. Stokes (Dublin).