In the absence of Roy O’Donovan, suspended after picking up a yellow in the last group game against Dungannon Swifts, Cork should have been boosted by the availability of striker John O’Flynn who passed a late fitness test after missing the 2-2 draw in Drogheda with a thigh strain. But with O’ Flynn barely lasting 50 minutes and Denis Behan failing to score despite numerous efforts, the visitors really missed O’Donovan’s the eye for goal.
For their part, newly-crowned Irish League champions Linfield were without striker Peter Thompson and manager David Jeffrey was looking to the partnership of Thomas Stewart and the veteran Glenn Ferguson to break down the Cork rearguard.
But defences remained resolutely on top in a scrappy first half in which both sides struggled to retain possession, let alone develop any kind of attacking momentum.
The home side had the first half-chance after seven minutes when, picking up on a weak defensive header, Paul McAreavy could only direct his shot tamely at Michael Devine from the edge of the area.
Denis Behan was looking the liveliest of the Cork strike force but it was to John O’Flynn that the visitors’ best chance of the first 45 fell. Dan Murray played the ball through from his own half and, with the Linfield defence pushing up to play offside, O’Flynn suddenly found himself one on one with Linfield keeper Alan Mannus. But, at a slight angle to the goal, the best the City striker could do was to drive his shot into the side netting.
Denis Behan was also guilty of failing to make the most of a fine opportunity when, after good play up the right by Neal Horgan and Joe Gamble, the striker’s first touch let him down in the box and allowed Jim Ervin to save the Blues with a last-ditch tackle.
A brighter second half was heralded five minutes in when Behan fired a shot from 30 yards which Mannus did well to tip over his crossbar.
Then Damien Richardson was forced into a change, as the injury plagued O’Flynn was called ashore to be replaced by Billy Woods. And, as Cork upped the pressure and forced a succession of corners, it was Woods, in the 64th minute, whose neatly chipped cross saw Behan bring out the best in Mannus with a flicked header.
As Linfield began to look a little leg weary, Cork continued to dominate with, first, Colin O’Brien hitting the bar from just inside the box and then the overworked Mannus having to dive full length to stop a fierce Behan drive with 20 minutes left on the clock.
There was a sense that the game was now very much there for the taking for Cork, if only they could find the clinical finish, but there was always the danger that they would pay for their failure to turn dominance on the pitch into dominance on the scoreboard.
And, sure enough, their punishment duly arrived with five minutes to go. Jamie Mulgrew crossed from the right and, when the struggling Devine could only palm the ball on towards the far post, there was Aidan O’ Kane to poke it home through a crowd of players from the narrowest of angles.
Mannus, Ervin, Bailie, Murphy (Douglas 51), McShane, McAreavey, Dickson, Mulgrew, O’ Kane, Stewart (Gault 45), Ferguson
Devine, Horgan (Murphy 86), O’Callaghan, Murray, Ryan, O’Brien, Gamble, Softic, Kearney, Behan, O’ Flynn (Woods 51)