Rebels pushed the Dubs hard for long spells but couldn't survive late onslaught

Rebels pushed the Dubs hard for long spells but couldn't survive late onslaught
Jonny Cooper shakes hands with Cork's Michael Hurley after the game. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

A fine Cork performance in Croke Park on Saturday evening still resulted in a comprehensive defeat: 5-18 to 1-17.

That's the standard Dublin, raging favourites to complete five in a row by September, set. Cork aren't at that level yet, not even close, but they've come a long way lately from the nadir of relegation to Division 3 and there's plenty to build on even after conceding five goals on Jones Road.

They've a quick turnaround to prove their worth, back up to Croker next Saturday, 5pm, to face a Tyrone outfit that outmuscled Connacht champs Roscommon on their own turf. It won't be easy, but then against Super 8 football isn't supposed to be. 

Cork are in with the boy boys now.

For 60 minutes this was excellent stuff from the Leesiders but they didn't have the strength in depth required to keep running until the final whistle, with Paul Kerrigan and Seán White withdrawn having given their all. It's a 20-man game at this juncture and the absence of the powerful Killian O'Hanlon, distance-shooter Eoghan McSweeney and long-term hamstring injury victim Seán Powter was significant.

Ronan McCarthy and his selectors made changes as their players were out on their feet but the Dubs rolled out big guns like Dean Rock and Jonny Cooper and cut through at will in the closing stages to rattle the net. They have the quality in reserve to finish with a 15 as strong if not better than their starters.

That's why they are relentless. Like Kilkenny in their pomp, every player is trying to prove himself every time he pulls on the geansaí. Even in a cameo. 

The Rebels played a lot of positive attacking football as they had in beating Limerick and Laois and rattling Kerry, setting the early tone to lead 0-5 to 0-1 and were just two behind, 2-11 to 1-12, in the second half.

Luke Connolly nervelessly buried a penalty into the Hill, the stuff of dreams, while Kerrigan had chipped in with three points and a display of ball-carrying that recalled his hey-day 10 years earlier.

Rookie wing-backs Liam O'Donovan and Mattie Taylor were punching holes with their runs from deep, while Kevin O'Driscoll's work-rate was exceptional and Kevin Flahive was forcing turnovers close to his own goals.

There was never a sense Cork were going to pull off an upset, especially as they were coughing up goal chances with their open approach, but they were rattling the Dubs more than most had expected. 

When push came to shove though, Jim Gavin's charges did that they've done to a succession of teams this decade by scorching clear. Three goals in a devastating burst turned this into a hammering.

Yet there were plenty of positives.

Kevin O'Driscoll's involvement at this level has been regularly questioned but he was well able on this occasion. 

The Caheragh native was a presence in the air and on the ground, snaring kick-outs and using the ball smartly. His early point was a beauty. 

Mark White might have been heavily punished for a miscued kick-out but made a quality save and has a presence around the square that will be massive in the coming years. His brother Seán is maturing as a withdrawn number 11, linking play neatly.

Mark Collins ended up quite deep, negating his finishing, but he assisted four points.

Brian Hurley, even starved of quality ball, was always a threat and his two efforts from play were sublime. It was a pity he couldn't make a better angle for a shot before the break that Stephen Cluxton saved.

His brother Michael was introduced and clipped 0-2 from play too, while Connolly was in far sharper than he'd been a week earlier against Laois. Cork rushed a few of their scoring chances, however, converting 14 of their 23 opportunities from play compared to 19 from 24 for the Dubs. 

And four of those were goals.

Ruthless.

Connolly, from a 45, and Collins, from a free, was off-target when Cork needed everything to swing between the posts. Deane almost fisted in a goal but Cluxton was well positioned and he also denied from Taylor early in the second half.

Cork shouldn't despair though. The ideal scenario this summer was a Munster title at Kerry's expense. After that, they needed to be exposed to facing the best teams in the white heat of championship.

They got burned but they'll learn from this. That's all we can expect for now.

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