The level of organisation and efficiency in their teamwork was impressive and a goal in each half from new signing Gary McPhee and Tony Bird illustrated their superiority in a game that provided plenty to admire for the attendance of 6,100.
St Pats spent most of the 90 minutes confined to their own half as Cork invested their work with a huge commitment, but they defended to such good effect that City were unable to turn their majority possession to account.
Goalkeeper Chris Adamson frustrated Cork with a series of brilliant saves, and St Pats worked hard as they controlled a Cork side rich in energy and competitive spirit, but sadly short in invention and imagination. Cork were too predictable in their work and too dependent upon the willing John O’Flynn to hope to succeed in out-smarting a marvellous St Pats defence.
O’Flynn was missing his shooting partner, George O’Callaghan, because of suspension and in his absence some of Cork’s striking magic was missing. While the youthful Denis Behan contributed well to Cork’s effort until forced off with injury, Cork had nobody with O’Callaghan’s ability to produce the unexpected and O’Flynn’s effectiveness was reduced as a result.
Yet Cork impressed in the opening half when, once again, they took control of the game by sheer force of will. They enjoyed little luck in their finishing attempts, however, and were unable to find a way past goalkeeper Adamson. Twice he made outstanding saves as Cork built on their early pressure to dictate the pace and the trend.
First it was Behan who ran on to a headed pass from O’Flynn and hit one on the half-volley from 25 yards that looked destined for the roof of the net. Adamson reacted smartly to turn the ball over the top.
Behan proved an effective partner for O’Flynn and his ability to link the play was illustrated brilliantly in the 28th minute. Casey found him on the edge of the penalty area and when Behan back-heeled the ball for O’Flynn, the centre-forward hammered it powerfully from 20 yards only to find Adamson again in position to push it over.
The energy and commitment of Cork came as no surprise, what was unusual was to find their defence in hesitant mood. They were unsure in coping with St Pats’ versatile attack and regularly lapsed into error. This was evident as early as the 20th minute when goalkeeper Devine dashed outside his penalty box to challenge Bird and missed his tackle. Fortunately for Cork, Bird collided with the goalkeeper and as he tumbled the ball ran free for Horgan to knock it clear.
They slumped into error again after 32 minutes when Murray mistimed his attempted headed clearance ten yards outside the penalty area. The ball bounced over his head and Cork were fortunate Coughlan had anticipated the danger and managed to cut out Bird’s pass to McPhee. Bird was an elusive opponent and his good positional play kept Cork’s defence on edge. His ability to ghost blindside of defenders appeared to un-nerve Murray, in particular, for the outstanding centre-back was unusually prone to error.
This tendency to lapse contributed to St Pats’ opening goal in the 46th minute. Murray was coursing a ball back to goalkeeper Devine when both appeared to hesitate at the edge of the penalty area and McPhee stuck out a foot to knock the ball past them and then rolled it into the empty net.
McPhee, formerly of Newry Town and signed a week ago, was an effective substitute when St Pats’ gamble in playing Davy Byrne backfired on them. He was struggling all week with an ankle injury and was forced off as early as the third minute.
McPhee and Bird worked with real understanding up front and their clever positional play stretched Cork’s defence and made them difficult opponents for Murray and Derek Coughlan. Once McPhee had put Pats in front, they grew appreciably in confidence and were able to play a counter-attacking game to great effect in the second half.
Cork were too predictable by half and their concentration on going through O’Flynn in the centre of the pitch meant that Pats could maintain a heavy concentration of players in that area to deny them any clear-cut chances. Adamson made one brilliant save from Colin T O’Brien, who was Cork’s top player, early in the second half but otherwise Cork were seldom afforded a clear sighting of goal.
St Pats set up a second goal in the 71st minute that reflected their good team-work. Osam won possession on the edge of the Cork penalty area, disguised a clever pass into the path of Livingstone Mbabazi and when his cross fell at the far post, Bird out-jumped Woods to head it under the crossbar.
CORK CITY (4-4-2): Devine; Horgan, Coughlan, Murray, Woods; Doyle, CT O’Brien, O’Halloran (Bennett 73), Casey (Nolan 89); Behan (CP O’Brien 64), O’Flynn.
ST. PATRICK’S ATHLETIC (4-4-2): Adamson; Prenderville, Foley, Maguire, Donnelly; Fahey, Byrne (McPhee 3/Harris 73), Osam, Livingstone Mbabazi; Bird, Freeman.
Referee: P McKeon (Dublin).