As if the implosion of their title-winning team wasn’t enough to deal with, the new-look Shels were down six regulars last night, including the experienced Jim Crawford who was ruled out with a knee injury. Indeed, a measure of the personnel crisis facing manager Dermot Keely was the fact that three of his bench had to be drawn from the youth team.
Everything changes but, even amid unseasonable weather, the surface at Tolka Park was pristine, a perfect invitation to get the ball down and play it about. Cork City, with Michael Devine back between the posts and Liam Kearney and Billy Woods manning the flanks, tried to do just that against a young Shels side which showed plenty of underdog bite and some enterprising moves of their own. But while the Dubliners lacked decisiveness on the final ball, City made no mistake with a gifted opportunity early on.
Barely seven minutes had elapsed when Shelbourne’s Conor Rafferty at first did brilliantly to rob Woods inside the box only for the centre-half to then suffer a rush of blood to the head as he immediately lost possession to Roy O’Donovan and brought the striker crashing to the ground. O’Donovan duly inflicted further punishment, sending goalkeeper James Hussey the wrong way from the spot.
The Premier Division side could not build on their dominance of possession however and, as the game developed an uncompromisingly physical aspect – with proceedings not exactly helped, it must be said, by some whistle-happy refereeing – Joe Gamble found himself in Richie Winter’s book after a high challenge with Shels’ James Chambers. It wasn’t the first time in the contest that the Cork midfielder had been involved in some of the more contentious exchanges, something which was surely a factor in manager Damien Richardson’s decision to call the Irish international ashore and replace him with Colin O’ Brien after 30 minutes.
Hussey may have been the busier of the two ‘keepers, confidently plucking crosses from the air, but going into the break in no way were the First Division side being outclassed by their top-flight opponents, as Dermot Keely’s players raised their game on the biggest night of Shels’ season so far.
The second half, however, pretty much belonged to Cork, with the impressive Darren Murphy a growing influence in midfield. In the 65th minute, Liam Kearney’s half volley from outside the box had Hussey diving full length to save low by his post, and ten minutes later the keeper was called into action again, this time to deny O’ Donovan’s shot after the striker was cleverly teed up by Murphy.
Yet Cork could not turn their increasing superiority into the second goal that would have settled the tie and, with Shelbourne game to the end, had to be content with securing their passage to the next round by the narrowest of margins.
Hussey, O’ Reilly, Gartland, Rafferty, McEniff, Harte (Doran 86), Chambers, Murphy, Lacey, Walsh, Leech
Devine, Horgan, Kelly, Murray, Ryan, Woods, Gamble (O’ Brien 30), Murphy, Kearney, O’ Donovan, O’ Flynn.