Cork: K. O’Halloran; E. Cotter (J. O’Sullivan); M. Shields; R. Carey; S. Kiely (P. Kissane); G. Canty; E. Cadogan (O’Leary); A. O’Connor (N. Murphy); P. O’Neill (0-2); F. Goold (0-1); P. Kerrigan (0-2); P. Kelly; C. O’Neill (0-4; 0-2f); A. Walsh (1-1); D. O’Connor (0-2; 0-1f).
Dublin: M. Savage; C. O’Sullivan; R. O’Carroll; P. McMahon; J. McCarthy; S. Murray (D. Bastic); K. Nolan (P. Brogan); K. Cooper; E. Fennell (0-1; R. McConnell); D. Byrne (B. Cahill); MD. MaCauley (0-2); B. Cullen (0-2); C. Dias (D. Kelly); D. Connolly (0-5; 0-2f); K. McManamon (0-2).
Cork booked their place in the league semi-final with a uninspiring victory at home against a depleted Dublin side. Cork – leaving Paudie Kissane and Noel O’Leary on the bench for Sean Kiely and Eoin Cadogan – were excellent in the opening twenty minutes, Paul Kerrigan and Aidan Walsh’s movement in particular hurting Dublin until they began to tighten up, funnel more players back and get more of a grip on midfield. For the rest of the game Dublin were often in the ascendancy, despite being short the two Brogans, Brennan and Cluxton and if it was not for some poor free-taking and a fluke Cork goal Dublin could easily have won.
For Dublin, this was a very decent performance considering the players they were missing and their poor performance last week against Mayo. Their backs were extremely loose for much of the first half but as the became more and more defensive and introduced Bastic and Cahill to the middle of the pitch they began to stifle Cork’s attack plan. Unfortunately for Dublin, only Connolly – and to a lesser extent, McManamon – offered any real threat up front, although Dias and Cullin were effective link up players, particularly the latter player in the second half. Moreover, Connolly hit a number of bad wides that probably would have been put over if Cluxton was starting, while the replacement goalkeeper Savage was lost for Walsh’s goal. Elsewhere, McCauley worked hard and got two excellent points, while he, Bastic and Cahill dominated their Cork counter-parts in the middle third throughout the second half.
Defensively, Cooper was solid throughout while McCarthy was eye-catching going forward and offers a more adventurous dynamic to a typically cautious team. Elsewhere, Dublin’s inside backs did fine, although they were well protected by the banks of Dublin players that funnelled back whenever Cork had the ball. Tactically, Dublin did what Cork always struggle against – banks of players behind the ball, closing down space and then attacking on the counter – and if they had even a decent freetaker would at least have gotten a draw.
For Cork, the opening twenty minutes aside, where we showed considerable dash and energy, this was the same old same old. For much of the game we moved forward with little purpose and no creativity, our inside forwards starved of the ball for large amounts of the second half while we also struggled to compete for the ball both aerially and on the ground at times. At the back, the entire full-back line struggled to stay with their men, although this was not entirely their fault considering the whole world of space in front of Connolly and McManamon. The half-back line was decent – Cadogan and Kiely went forward with purpose, the latter showing some good footpasses before he went off injured while Canty looked fit and strong – and the fact that they were dragged up the pitch was more a by-product of our inability to move the ball forward quick enough to defeat Dublin’s blanket defence.
In midfield, Pearse O’Neill and Alan O’Connor weren’t influential as they typically are, which was a problem considering Cork more then any other major team need the majority of possession to win. O’Neill did put over two fine points but if neither player is winning considerable amounts of primary possession then there position on the pitch has to be in doubt considering how much they tend to slow us down going forward. Fintan Goold again showed that he is quietly becoming an important player for us, winning numerous short kick-outs in the first half and showing considerable poise on the ball, while Kerrigan was energetic in the opening half he, like most of the forwards, struggled with the lack of space in the second. Colm O’Neill was excellent the few times he got the ball, and his undoubted class – a commodity short in this Cork team – and ability to kick long range points means he will surely start come championship. Aidan Walsh also had a decent game, offering a strong vocal point at full-forward for our attack and with numerous high balls in the second half when moved to midfield. However, the long standing negatives for Cork – problems at corner-back, ponderous play going forward, lack of fast ball inside and an inability to deal with blanket defences – still persist, and today further suggested the aren’t going to go away any time soon.