As predicted, Cork beat a mediocre Offaly side with five points to spare in a pretty pedestrian match in Pairc ui Chaoimh. In a relatively entertaining first half, Cork got off to the best possible start as Tom Kenny delicately chipped the ball into the top corner of the net from twenty yards out three minutes into the game. With both teams playing at a decent pace in sunny conditions, the scores flowed, Offaly replying to the early goal with three points and a scorching goal from Colin Egan ensuring both sides were level at 1-6 apiece twenty minutes in. With both set of forwards well on top, Pa Cronin looking tidy and dominating the Offaly center-back while Padraig O’Sullivan was well on top of the undersized and outclassed James Rigney and clipped over three points from play in a productive first half. However Offaly’s half-forward line were well on top, Bergin playing a considerable amount of ball off Mark Ellis while Brian Carroll picked off some top-class long range points.
Tactically, Offaly seemed to have the better of it, Joe Bergin moving from full-forward to center-forward and physically dominating Ellis while the decision to play Stephen Wynne as a spare man in the half-back line worked relatively well in keeping Offaly in the match and picking up any sloppy passes. Similarly, Cork’s obssession with short puck-outs was maddening, particularly when the puck-outs put unfair pressure on our rookie defenders Stephen McDonnell (the spare man for Cork) and Mark Ellis. With both free-takers Shane Dooley and Patrick Horgan prolific as the half when on, Cork were a point ahead at half-time, 1-12 to 1-11. The forwards were a small bright spot, Padraig O’Sullivan very dangerous, Kenny and Cronin showing well at times and all six forwards scoring from play, while in midfield Brian Murphy, starting instead of the injured Ray Ryan with Egan at half-back, was tidy. Defensively however Bergin was well on top at center-forward, Egan did well in possession but struggled to adequately mark Brian Carroll while Eoin Cadogan still looks unconvincing under the high ball even though he did clear his lines relatively well.
Unfortunately for spectators and players alike the game and performances deteriorated in the second half. Offaly only managed four points and looked tired and uninterested throughout. Cork were only marginally better, the highlight being Anthony Nash’s point blank save of a Shane Dooley shot. The midfield at least played well enough, Jerry O’Connor playing a little more ball and popping over a very nice long-range point, while Brian Murphy, Cork’s most consistent player over the 70 minutes, continued to win ball and move it on efficiently. The half-back line continued to struggle, and although Bergin did less damage this was largely down to Ellis’s consistent fouling. The performance of our half-forward line got worse, Naughton anonymous and subbed mid-way through the half while Cronin missed a number of very scoreable chances. Inside, with Rigney substituted O’Sullivan’s infleunce began to wain. The half-back line continuted to struggle. The half-forward line was badly crying out for Cian McCarthy’s work rate and physicality – instead we got Kieran Murphy for Patrick Horgan (a truly forward thinking substitution), the latter playing well despite missing a gilt edged goal chance. The entrance of Niall McCarthy, and (eventually) the bringing on of both Cian McCarthy and Lorcan McLoughlin ten minutes from the end helped seal the game, all three winning some possession and Cian McCarthy creating, and then missing, a penalty in the dying minutes. In truth, Offaly tried so little in the second half the game simply petered out in the last ten minutes to an inevitable but unconvincing Cork victory.
A few small positives – Shane Murphy very solid on Shane Dooley, debutant Stephen McDonnell okay in the other corner, Nash convincing in goals, Cronin, Horgan and Kenny playing well in bits and pieces, Brian Murphy very consistent and Padraig O’Sullivan excellent in the first half. However, the manager’s imprint one wants to see, that specific and effective style of play running throughout the team still seems completey absent, while old habits – pointless short puck-outs, over-elaboration and dangerous hand-passes – were still evident. Impressive passages of play were rare, and there is still a lack of directness and confidence going forward, particularly when one of the O’Connors gain possession. Very simply, an uninspiring start to the year and a performance of similar quality next weekend will ensure another hammering at the hands of Kilkenny.
Cork: A. Nash; S. McDonnell; E. Cadogan; S. Murphy; J. Gardiner; M. Ellis; W. Egan (L. McLoughlin); J. O’Connor (0-1); B. Murphy (0-1); T. Kenny (1-1); P. Cronin (0-3; C. McCarthy); C. Naughton (0-2; N. McCarthy 0-1); B. O’Connor (0-3; 0-1f, 0-1 sl); P. O’Sullivan (0-4); P. Horgan (0-4; 0-3f).
Offaly: J. Dempsey; B. Mulrooney; J. Rigney (D. Hayden); S. Egan; R. Hannify; D. Kenny; D. Morkam; C. Mahon; S. Kelly (K. Connolly); B. Carroll (0-4); C. Egan (1-0); S. Wynne (0-1; K. Brady); C. Parlon (0-2); J. Bergin (0-2); S. Dooley (0-6; 0-5f).
Elsewhere, better news, as both Meelin and Ballymartle won their All-Ireland finals today, both against Kilkenny opposition. Congrats to both, and one expects the two sides to get a scalp or two in this year’s club championship.