An early Sean Maguire penalty set them on the way to victory over a Bray Wanderers side who had their ‘keeper Peter Cherrie to thank for keeping them in the game during a largely one-sided first half which had seen a rampant Cork create chance after chance.
But the second 45 was a very different matter, as the visitors came right back into the game and the home side seemed to lose their way, at least until club captain Johnny Dunleavy scored a second goal three minutes from time.
“We weren’t at our best in the second half although before half-time we could have had three or four, and it wouldn’t have flattered us,” said Dunleavy afterwards.
“We showed our resilience as well. We’re delighted to get the three points.”
Disappointed Bray manager Harry Kenny remarked on Cork’s 12-point lead at the top: “After just the first series of games, it’s a huge lead. Even at this early stage, with 11 games gone, it’s theirs to lose.”
Expectations were high for this final fixture of the season’s first round of Premier Division games between the league’s two highest scoring teams, with Cork City pitting their outstanding record of ten out of ten before kick off against a buoyant Bray side who came to Turner’s Cross on the back of four wins on the bounce.
Throw in the presence in the starting line-ups of the league’s three top scorers, in Gary McCabe, Sean Maguire and Karl Sheppard, and it wasn’t hard to see why another big crowd of 5,361 at the Cross were anticipating fireworks.
The game was only three minutes old when the first goal chance presented itself. Kevin O’Connor’s in-swinging free from an acute angle on the right might have been intended as a cross but it still required a fine save from Peter Cherrie to prevent the ball creeping inside his far post.
Six minutes later Cork came even closer through the old route one, Mark McNulty’s booming kick-out won brilliantly in the air by Maguire, and when his flick-on broke for Karl Sheppard he crashed a goal-bound shot only to see the ball thump back off the post and then rebound off Cherrie to safety.
But the reprieve was short-lived for Bray. From the resultant corner, referee Paul McLaughlin spotted Derek Foran manhandling Ryan Delaney in the box and had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Up stepped Maguire to send the ‘keeper the wrong way, his ninth of the campaign giving the home side the lead in the tenth minute.
There was a brief scare for City when the striker was left clutching his shoulder after being downed in a heavy challenge but he was soon back to resume tormenting the Bray defence.
A few driving runs from the highly rated Dylan Connolly apart, Bray were doing little to threaten at the other end, the impressive Conor McCormack at the base of the City midfield quick to snuff out the first sign of danger.
And just before half-time, City almost made it two but Cherrie, by far the busier of the two keepers to put it mildly, produced another fine save to prevent Stephen Dooley crowning a blistering solo run with the finish it deserved.
As the second half got under way, Bray finally began to ask some questions, McCormack well positioned to head John O’Sullivan’s effort off the line. And with the visitors’ confidence growing and a new-found fluency evident in their play, an anxiety began to manifest itself among the home support that, for all their team’s supremacy in the first 45, City’s one-goal advantage might not be enough.
A great last-ditch block in the 68th minute by Seagulls skipper Tim Clancy prevented Sheppard from settling local nerves and, an intervention of a more dubious kind by the Seagulls skipper – a trip for which he received a yellow card – prevented Maguire from running through on goal with five minutes remaining.
But that still left enough time for club captain Johnny Dunleavy to seal the deal in front of a delirious Shed End by stooping to head home a Kevin O’Connor corner after, just a moment before, he’d had another even more powerful header brilliantly tipped over by Cherrie.
In time added on, a Derek Foran header pulled one back for Bray but it was too little too late for the visitors as Cork extended their advantage at the top of the table and kept their remarkable 100 per cent intact.
McNulty, Beattie, Dunleavy, Delaney, O’Connor, McCormack, Sheppard, Bolger (Keohane 59), Dooley (Griffin 83), Maguire (Ellis 90)
Cherrie, Buckley, Clancy, Foran, Marks, Sullivan, Salmon (Moore 73), Brennan (Flood 77), McCabe (Aherne 85), Connolly, Greene.
Paul McLaughlin (Donegal)