But the faithless who stayed away last night missed a terrific performance by a resurgent Cork City as four second-half goals simply blew holders St Pat’s off the park and out of the FAI Cup and sent John Caulfield’s team roaring through to the quarter-finals.
“I asked the lads at half-time to lift it,” said the City boss afterwards, “and it was a great second-half performance. It was comprehensive in the end.”
The league may indeed be beyond them now but, as the Shed celebrated wildly at the end, this was a night to loudly proclaim that there’s still plenty to play for in City’s season.
For Pat’s, however, the heavy defeat meant a whopping eight goals conceded in two games, as a club record nine-game winning streak in the league has suddenly given away to a wounding collapse and, with it, their hopes of retaining the trophy it had taken them so long to win.
With his selection options restricted by the cup-tied status of Steven Beattie and injuries to John Dunleavy, Gavan Holohan and Danny Morrissey, City boss Caulfield was obliged to reshuffle his troops again, with Michael McSweeney given a rare start at right-back and Billy Dennehy called in from the cold to a place on the bench — and, later, the pitch and even the scoreboard. For Pat’s, Killian Brennan returned from suspension, only to have a night to forget.
City got off on the front foot, with Karl Sheppard lively from the very start and, after just four minutes, he was denied only by a lucky deflection as his shot struck the inside of the leg of Pat’s keeper Brendan Clarke before slipping just wide of the post.
Then, after 15 minutes, Turner’s Cross was saluting a goal but the offside flag was up as Mark O’ Sullivan bundled in a rebound from a Gary Buckley shot.
In between, however, City almost undid their good opening work, Dan Murray gifting a ball to Conan Byrne in front of goal but, faced only with City keeper Mark McNulty, the Pat’s man badly fluffed his lines, his half-hearted effort failing even to reach the target and allowing Cork to clear the danger.
With Pat’s initially unable to get their familiar passing game going, and the gifted Chris Forrester reduced to long-range efforts that were too ambitious even for him, City continued to enjoy the upper hand, the all-action Colin Healy the next to come close with a volley from outside the box which deflected wide for a corner with Clarke at full stretch.
But just past the half-hour mark, the home side had a freakish escape, Alan Bennett clearing a goal-bound Aaron Greene header in front of the far post but only by inadvertently driving the ball off the legs of McNulty and away. And minutes later Dan Murray was scurrying back to clear a James Chambers header off the line as Pat’s began to get into their groove, and an increasingly wide open, end-to-end game continued to offer up chances for both sides.
Caulfield sent on John Kavanagh at the restart and, just three minutes in, the substitute was centrally involved in the breakthrough goal for Cork. Driving up the right side, he was heavily challenged by Ian Birmingham and when the resultant Ross Gaynor free into a crowded box reached Gary Buckley, via first the legs of Aaron Greene and then the post, the midfielder was able to bundle the ball home.
The Shed End had barely finished their celebrations before City doubled their advantage on 52 minutes. Killian Brennan — soon to be substituted — was robbed by top scorer Mark O’Sullivan who then unleashed a glorious strike from fully 25 yards to claim his eighth goal in eight games.
And then, in the 63rd minute, it was three, Liam Miller finding Gaynor on the overlap and when he cut side and let fly, Clark could only parry the shot, and Buckley was on hand to head home the rebound from close range for his second and Cork’s third.
There was sympathy for John Kavanagh when injury forced him off after a hugely impressive cameo and a warm reception for his replacement Billy Dennehy, who suddenly found himself back in the bright lights after a period cast out in the darkness at Turner’s Cross.
And , with just two minutes remaining, a breakaway Karl Sheppard run ended with him setting up Dennehy — with Pat’s vainly claiming offside — for the simplest of finishes to crown his and Cork’s night.
McNulty, McSweeney, Murray, Bennett, Gaynor, Miller, Healy, Sheppard, Buckley, O’Connor (Kavanagh 45, B Dennehy 70), O’Sullivan (Kearney 76)
Clarke, O’Brien, McGuinness, Desmond, Birmingham, Byrne (Hoare 66), Chambers, Bolger, Brennan (McGrath 55), Forrester, Greene (Langley 85).
Paul McLaughlin (Monaghan).