Indeed, but for some less than clinical finishing in the game’s final quarter, the visitors would not have been flattered by a victory which would have seen them top of the table this morning.
As it stands, however, both clubs remain firmly on course, with last night’s quality action giving every reason to believe that, when they meet here again on the last night of the campaign on October 29, it will be with a return to the top-flight very much on the agenda for these former giants of the Irish game.
City welcomed back Mark McNulty in goal and the experienced Neal Horgan at left-full in place of the suspended Danny Murphy, with Stephen Mulcahy coming in to fill the right-back berth. Skipper Greg O’ Halloran was also passed fit for the game at the ground where he previously had two spells with Shels. Centre-half Stephen Paisley was a significant absentee for the home side with a hamstring injury, as manager Alan Mathews set out his troops to do top of the battle with a former club of his own.
With both sides favouring 4-4-2, there was a pleasing ebb and flow to the early stages of the game, Cork having the better of the half-chances through a Graham Cummins volley which flashed just wide and, again, when the number nine did well to fire low across the face of goal only for Davin O’ Neill to arrive a fraction late at the far post.
But Shels too looked threatening on the attack, with the visitors grateful to Stephen Mulcahy for deflecting a rising strike from Gareth Matthews on the 20 minute mark and Philly Hughes — a thorn in Cork’s side when he played for Monaghan last season — just failing to get a decisive touch on a couple of dangerous balls fired into the visitors’ box.
Cork finally took the lead in the 36th minute, when a Davin O’Neill cross from the left caused panic in the Shels box and, as Lorcan Fitzgerald attempted to clear the ball off the toe of Vinny Sullivan, the full-back succeeded only in teeing up Graham Cummins, who found the net with a stretching header from just inside the six-yard box.
Moments later Mark McNulty had to be brave as well as agile to keep out Philly Hughes, though a goal for Shels would have been rough justice on Cork since the striker had clearly used his arm to control the ball as he bore down on the Cork keeper.
But City’s lead lasted only four minutes into the second half, after a typically astute Hughes pass put Karl Birmingham straight through the heart of the Leesiders’ defence. McNulty did well to parry the striker’s first effort but could do nothing to deny Birmingham on the rebound.
Shels enjoyed a period of dominance after the equaliser but Cork then worked their way back into what was a thoroughly entertaining game, though the home side’s Barry Clancy will hardly have enjoyed his last moment of the action — miscuing from a threatening position — before being called ashore in the 74th minute.
With eight minutes to go City sub Vincent Escude-Candau forced Delany to tip his fierce long-range drive over the top and, from the resultant corner, Shels sub Conan Byrne was in the right place to clear O’Neill’s close-range effort almost off the line.
Then, with just four minutes to go, Escude-Candau blew the best chance of all to give Cork the three points when, from directly in front of goal, he fired wide after being put in by O’Halloran.
SHELBOURNE: Delany, Matthews (James 65), Boyle, Ryan, Fitzgerald, B McGill, Cassidy, D Mcgill, Clancy (Byrne 74), Birmingham (Mullhall 85), Hughes.
CORK CITY: McNulty, Mulcahy, Kavanagh, Spillane, Horgan, Morrissey, O’Halloran, Duggan, O’ Neill, Sullivan (Escude-Candau 76), Cummins
Referee: Paul McLaughlin (Monaghan).