For the third time this season, Cork City lost by the narrowest score-line to Monaghan United, but this time the price to be paid was a place in the quarter-finals of the FAI Ford Cup.
For their onslaught in the second half, Cork will probably feel that they deserved at least a draw from this one. But in defending stoutly and making the most of a minimum of possession, Monaghan showed once again why they deserve to be in second place in the First Division.
It had all started promisingly for Cork, with former Sporting Fingal man Shane Barrett, previously thought to be cup-tied, cleared to play.
His welcome eligibility allowed City to mirror their opponents’ 4-4-2, albeit with the novel twists that George O’ Callaghan was wide on the right, Billy Woods at left-back and Neal Horgan partnering Greg O’Callaghan in the heart of the defence.
At the start, the system looked well-balanced and purposeful, with City taking the game to their high-flying First Division opponents in the early stages but, just 12 minutes in, Monaghan suddenly showed their threat when a Philip Hughes snapshot from distance forced Mark McNulty to scramble across his goal and turn the ball around the post.
And moments later, unmarked in the box, the vastly experienced Hughes couldn’t quite direct a header on target after a fine cross from Aidan Collins.
For their part, Cork were playing some decent one-touch football but lacked penetration in front of goal.
Their first real chance of the game didn’t arrive until the 26th minute mark when a superb O’Callaghan cross was headed just over by the stretching Graham Cummins. Then Davin O’Neill headed directly at United ‘keeper Gabriel Sava, as the home side appeared to be enjoying a potentially productive spell.
But just past the half-hour mark, Monaghan got the breakthrough in a manner which would have infuriated Cork boss Tommy Dunne as, facing his own goal under a routine high ball, Neal Horgan was simply out-muscled by Karl Birmingham, who then drove the ball firmly past McNulty.
Cork were by no means out of it, however, and in what was the last action of the first half, they almost levelled when O’Callaghan flashed a header just wide of the far post after a deep cross from Billy Woods.
With the blazing lights adding to a proper cup atmosphere, Cork were quickest out of the traps in the second half, the Turner’s Cross faithful roaring on the home side’s efforts to get back in the game.
Cork were really piling on the pressure – in one dramatic passage of play, Sava saved from O’Neill and then, from the rebound, Brian Gartland cleared Barrett’s effort off the line.
And after a clever flicked pass from Barrett, Cummins too came close with a rising shot just over the angle of crossbar and post.
Inevitably, it was risky stuff, as Cork’s desperate need to get back on level terms made any misplaced pass potentially costly, as it left them exposed to a Monaghan side which was always dangerous on the break.
The game ended with City laying siege to the visitors’ goal, but a disciplined Monaghan defence held firm.
In time added on, substitute Gearoid Morrissey’s spectacular 30-yard drive dipped just over the top of the bar, and then Cork knew that the game – and the cup – was up.
CORK CITY: McNulty, Turner, Horgan, O’ Halloran, Woods, O’ Neill, O’ Callaghan, Duggan, Lordan, O’ Callaghan (Morrissey 82), Barrett ( Cambridge 82), Cummins
MONAGHAN UNITED: Sava, Collins, McMahon, Gartland, Grimes, O’ Connor (Brennan 78), Tierney (McCrossan 27), Byrne, Clancy, Birmingham (Hanaphy 86), Hughes
Referee: Graham Kelly (Cork)