THEY say that goals win games. Well, in Cork’s case they also win you Division 2 status, as three well-taken efforts were decisive in seeing off Westmeath in the Division 2 relegation play-off at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
The three second-half Cork goals ultimately proved to be the difference between the sides, but it is worth pointing out that Westmeath actually created the same amount of goal-scoring opportunities as the Rebels. They found themselves in goal-scoring positions on six occasions but were unable to convert any of them, with sub Sam McCartan being guilty of missing two gilt-edged opportunities, one in either half.
Cork also created six green flag opportunities, and they took three of them, with Luke Connolly going just wide with two efforts in either half and Brian Hurley striking the crossbar late on.
The goals that Cork scored were all well-worked efforts. The first came from a Brian Hurley hand pass to the onrushing Mark Collins, after a superb outside of the foot pass from Luke Connolly to feed Hurley, while Connolly’s brilliant fisted effort for the second goal was all down to a lung-bursting run from captain Ian Maguire right through the heart of the Westmeath defence.
Compiling a score of 3-22 is an impressive stat, as it’s a score you would be expecting to see in a hurling match rather than in Gaelic football, but similarly, you could say the same about conceding 0-25.
The Lake County never had it so easy going forward.
They had 10 points scored by the first water break, as they were able to walk through the Cork defence almost untouched at times and get shots off. Westmeath scored 25 points, had eight wides and hit the frame of Micheal Martin’s post in the first half, so they effectively managed a shot on Cork’s goal every two minutes, a stat that is far too high, considering Cork can expect to be facing much more potent attacks later in the year.
A score by Ray Connellan in the first half, to make it 0-13 to 0-11 to Westmeath, and a 43rd-minute point by Ger Egan to level the scores, were just two examples of how easy it was for the Leinster county, as both players effectively were left run half the length of the pitch without being tackled and were able to slot over the bar for easy scores.
Part of the issue appeared to be that the Cork players were making a concerted effort to reduce their foul count, although it looks like they are struggling to find the right balance between being overly vigorous in the tackle and being too porous. Cork conceded 25 frees against Clare last time out, and this week that total was down to a more respectable 14, but six more scores conceded against Westmeath might suggest that this side of Cork’s game needs more work.
Another major issue was the huge amount of space that Westmeath were finding around the middle, especially in the first half. Cork were being overrun in this sector, and they simply did not have enough bodies in the middle third to plug these gaping holes. Finding a balance between getting numbers forward and shielding the half-back line is certainly an area where Cork will have to improve for the Munster Championship.
All these attempts at goal at both ends meant that both goalkeepers had a lot of kick-outs, and once again Cork did not fare too well in the kick-outs that were contestable.
Cork manager Ronan McCarthy will certainly be happy with his scoring options. After scoring 0-22 against Clare in Ennis they went and scored 3-22 against Westmeath. Cathail O’Mahony looked incredibly dangerous in the first half, scoring with his first three touches, before being forced off injured, and Brian Hurley notched 1-4 when he was introduced.
The other inside line starters had productive days also, with Luke Connolly scoring 1-4, with his four points being from frees, while newcomer Dan Dineen clipped three points while being responsible for five assists in an extremely tidy and lively display leading the line.