FROM the off this felt like a statement of intent by Cork. Kevin Flahive turned Paul Mannion over on the very first ball Dublin kicked in. Brian Fenton got swallowed up on his first burst into Cork’s defence.
Cork had promised all week that they weren’t going to back down from this challenge and if there was always this element of niggling doubt that it was only Limerick and Laois they’d beaten so far and that reality just might be crushing, Ronan McCarthy’s team were as good as their word and better.
Cork attacked Dublin with so much purpose it was impossible not to get pulled into the idea that anything (even a win) was possible here. There was that remarkable opening quarter where Cork’s purpose and speed of football was as good as anything produced for so long and then a just as impressive refusal to go away in that third-quarter push
This was Cork 2019, full of the aggressive running and attitude and attacking football of the last few months but stepping up another level. They opened Dublin up with a lovely mix of abandon and precision in that opening quarter especially, controlling the ball and finding runners in space over and over.
Paul Kerrigan showcased all his awareness of spaces to kick three points from play and destroy Cian O’Sullivan’s role so much Dublin had to recalibrate their system – Cork’s fifth point was a perfect example, where they controlled possession with good angles and runs until they worked the space for Kerrigan to shoot from inside the 45.
He had the will to make something happen and cleverness to open the gap for Ian Maguire’s run for the penalty.
Some other players looked like they belonged. Again Mattie Taylor and especially Liam O’Donovan were splendidly positive and never stopped running forward – it was they kicked the two points after Luke Connolly’s penalty that kept Cork pushing.
It felt like there were two or three Sean Whites out there he was so involved in everything – one simple ball won on the floor second half summed up his bravery in not backing down. Kevin O’Driscoll was hugely effective - Cork backed themselves to win long ball from Mark White’s kick-outs and did mostly.
Mostly it was those small details of defiance from Cork. Tomas Clancy ripped the ball from Ciaran Kilkenny. Brian Hurley did a lovely dummy solo and kicked a point. Every play Cork made suggested there was no inferiority here. Dublin were uncomfortable. It was different and thrilling to watch.
If Cork have regrets it’ll be that some of the reasons for the defeat felt self-inflicted. The risk factor of Cork’s bravery in setting up was always the potential to concede chances but five goals took the game away and there were elements of all that annoyingly came from little lapses in concentration.
McCaffrey’s goal just seemed a little too easy. The second goal just before half-time was definitely a tiny switch off from Cork to a hopeful long breaking ball. The third and fifth were runners down the middle. Cork were efficient in scoring 1-17 and still felt there could have been more.
Not many forwards drive past Michael Fitzsimons one-v-one so Brian Hurley’s goal chance was brilliantly created; the pity is it wasn’t taken and that Cork couldn’t replicate the situation often enough. The inside line of Hurley and Collins were out of the game for too long. Ruairí Deane couldn’t find the space with or without the ball.
Some of it was just Dublin’s power game of course. Jack McCaffrey’s legs and ability to find spaces all night was a constant threat. Con O’Callaghan was a real handful, sniping around the fringes.
Dublin were ruthless in their hunt for goals to take the game away from Cork when the chance presented itself – the know-how to go for the second goal with a long punt and runners making an extra man inside and then the drive down the middle and interchange of passing for the killer third goal, where you could just sense that Dublin felt they needed to make that special push for that score to finish Cork.
They located those gaps, battering away at Cork until they eventually created a situation where a runner could get beyond the defensive line.
Cork did tire in shutting down their own defensive area in a crazily loose, open second half, partly from a pure commitment to keep attacking, partly worn down from the intensity and physicality of slugging with this Dublin side. Cork did little wrong and still conceded 5-18. It just didn’t have the feel of an inevitable pulling away – if Ruairí Deane could have flicked that cleverly worked long ball into the net in the second half it would have become real interesting.
Cork have gone toe-to-toe with Kerry and Dublin now and only fallen a little short on quality and developmental stages. Tyrone next. This is how things are at the top. It’s good to be back there again.