Rebels bow out of the football championship after another battling display at Croke Park

Rebels bow out of the football championship after another battling display at Croke Park
Ian Maguire dejected after the game. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

CORK made more progress at Croke Park on Saturday evening yet they've run out of road in the championship.

It's a pity because they certainly could have beaten Tyrone and taken the major scalp their displays against Kerry and Dublin suggested. Ultimately Cork didn't have the cuteness or experience to foil Mickey Harte's charges.

A burst of 2-1 in three minutes, straight after Mark Collins had miscued a point attempt into the Hill, gave control to the game back to Tyrone. Though Cork, helped by Micheal Hurley's sensational contribution of 0-4 off the bench, were in the mix until the last play when a Luke Connolly pass to Ian Maguire at the edge of the square was intercepted, they didn't do enough.

Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Keeping a clean sheet was going to be critical in coaxing Tyrone out of their massed defensive structure. Harte rejigged at half-time in whipping off three starters and pushing Mattie Donnelly further up.

They pressed Cork and limited short kick-out options, almost pilfering a goal from Mark White in the fourth quarter and varied their attacking approach slightly, by sending in a few high, long balls. Donnelly thieved three points and his menacing movement also brought Cathal McShane to the fore. Peter Harte, as he usually is, was terrific in orchestrating counter-attacks and getting on the end of flowing moves to score.

In contrast, Collins and Brian Hurley were smothered. Both worked doggedly, Hurley forcing a great turnover just before the break, but Cork needed more on the scoreboard from the dynamic Castlehaven duo.

Connolly was afforded a bit more latitude and he raised a green flag, clipped three points, and gave his best overall performance of the season. He did opt for a soccer-style finish when through on goal in the last quarter though. More composure was required at a crucial stage in a pulsating contest but that will only come with exposure to facing the best.

There's still a game to play, on the August Bank Holiday Sunday when Roscommon head to Leeside but Páirc Uí Rinn won't be rocking at the prospect of making an All-Ireland semi-final. At half-time on Jones Road, the Rebels looked well placed to pull off a stunning upset against Tyrone.

Two brilliant goals from Luke Connolly and James Loughrey had given them a platform to gain revenge on the county that filleted Cork 12 months earlier in the qualifiers. Tactically Cork matched the Red Hands' blanket defence and they were struggling for scores.

Cork's fitness and physicality was minimising any possession lost in contact and Liam O'Donovan and Mattie Taylor were able to stretch the play by staying wide. Maguire and Killian O'Hanlon were largely dominant in the middle when kick-outs went long.

Tyrone were a different animal in the second half, however. They stole more ball from Cork runners by tackling with more purpose and in great numbers. They attacked with greater pace and urgency.

For all that Cork could easily have dug out a victory late on with smarter decision-making. They failed to spot the man who had ghosted in behind the Tyrone 20-metre line a few times, with O'Donovan slipping through twice without receiving a pass over the top.

Michael Hurley was electric on his introduction to the tune of 0-4, following up his two points in the last quarter against the Dubs. He certainly merits a start in the last match.

Sean Powter, having been plagued with hamstring problems, made a welcome appearance but couldn't get much possession, while Paul Kerrigan buzzed around off the bench too, without finding room to dance clear and get off shots.

What's so irritating about the Tyrone style is that they've no shortage of talent. This was a gripping, close contest but imagine how exciting it would have been if both sides went toe-to-toe.

Anyway, Cork more than held their own against such negativity and it was some turnaround to be heading home from Croker disgusted with a three-point defeat, in comparison to the absolute embarrassment of last year in Portlaoise.

Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

While there is nothing at stake against Connacht champions Roscommon, Cork could badly do with a win to end the summer on a high and to prove that they can beat one of the top 10 teams, not just trade blows with them.

Of more importance are this weekend's minor and U20 clashes. The minors face Monaghan in a quarter-final and the U20s will take on Tyrone in the semi. Two wins in Tullamore would be a serious boost.

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