Goals either side of the break by Garry Buckley and Karl Sheppard had put John Caulfield’s team in a commanding position before, to no-one’s surprise, ace marksman Sean Maguire got in on the act to complete an emphatic win against another of the sides regarded as title contenders this season.
It’s still early enough days, of course, but with Cork’s 100% record keeping them well clear at the top, it’s already looking like it will take something special or freakish to put a stop to their gallop.
“It’s been a phenomenal start. We just want to keep it going,” said City man of the match Stephen Dooley last night. “We’re not getting carried away.”
Goalkeeper Ger Doherty overcame a thigh problem to skipper Derry but the visitors, already without striker Rory Patterson, suffered an additional blow ahead of kick-off when the influential Barry McNamee failed a late fitness test.
Greg Bolger was absent for Cork, as was Johnny Dunleavy whose return to action is being carefully managed by the club while Steven Beattie started on the bench before being introduced late in the second half.
The flags were flying at half-mast in Turner’s Cross and there was warm applause after five minutes of play to honour the memory of Ryan McBride, as Derry made their first visit to Cork since the tragic loss of their captain.
City boss John Caulfield had suggested before the game that the best possible tribute to McBride would be for both sides to deliver the kind of engaging contest which has enlivened the respectful rivalry between the two clubs over the years. If it wasn’t quite that, this was still a game which supplied a couple of outstanding moments to relish.
On a beautiful evening for football, in front of the live RTÉ cameras and a big attendance of 5,275, the home side looked to get on the front foot from the opening whistle, their first attack ending with Karl Sheppard heading a Stephen Dooley cross over the bar after just three minutes.
And nine minutes in, Sean Maguire showed his threat with an inimitable piece of skill, turning to take a quick Stephen Dooley throw in his stride and then ghosting through the Derry defence to put himself one on one with Doherty, only for the veteran ‘keeper to do well by getting out quickly and smothering the striker’s attempted finish.
With the game struggling to develop a clear pattern, it was by no means one way stuff, City ‘keeper Mark McNulty three times having to make saves, albeit comfortable ones, in the opening half hour. That the visitors were largely restricted to shooting from distance had much to do with the trojan work of ex-Derry man Conor McCormack, who provided a formidable shield in front of the Cork defence as well as shrewdly directing traffic from the base of midfield towards the visitors’ goal.
City almost made the breakthrough right on the 30 minute mark when a trademark Kevin O’Connor free-kick, which seemed destined to curl into the top corner, was turned over the angle of crossbar and post by Doherty, but then that was generally in keeping with a frustrating performance by the home side up to that point, as they repeatedly promised more than they delivered.
All that changed in the 35th minute when Maguire found Dooley on the left and, after his trickery had taken him to the endline, he pulled a ball back across to the near post where, showing brilliant improvisation, Gary Buckley supplied a Zola-esque flicked finish to score his second goal in two games. In a match which had been lacking in real quality up to that point, it was a welcome moment of sheer class to give City what was, on balance, a deserved lead going into the break.
Ten minutes after the restart, they duly doubled their advantage, Karl Sheppard making the most of a fine through ball by Gearoid Morrissey to slot past Doherty.
Kenny Shiels sent on Josh Daniels and Mark Timlin in a double substitution as the Derry manager desperately sought to find a way back into the game but, almost inevitably, it was Sean Maguire who put the match entirely out of the visitors’ reach in the 65th minute as, after some hapless attempts to clear the ball by the Derry defence, he seized on a kind rebound off Nicky Low on the edge of the area to turn and, despite being under pressure, rifle emphatically to the corner of the Derry net. A textbook example of how a top striker can ruthlessly punish an error, it was Maguire’s eighth goal in eight league games for Cork.
After that, City threatened to turn their clear superiority into further goals, but another terrific save by Doherty once again defied O’Connor’s expertise with the dead ball. The closest the Foylesiders came to a consolation goal – and, in fairness, it would have been a sensational one - was when McNulty tipped a 30-yard screamer from Aaron McEneff against his own bar and away to safety.
Three-nil it ended, as the Rebels go marching on.
McNulty, Keohane, Bennett, Delaney, O’Connor, Sheppard (Beattie 75), McCormack, Morrissey (Ellis 80), Buckley, Dooley (Griffin 82), Maguire
Doherty, McDermott, Jarvis, Barry, Schubert (Timlin 60), McEneff, Low, Monaghan, Curtis, Boyle (Daniels 60), Kennedy
Robert Harvey (Dublin)