IT could have been a game where Cork City went through the motions for 90 minutes but the players deserve a lot of credit for the attitude they showed in their convincing 3-1 victory over Athlone Town.
I would imagine after their recent disappointments against Cabinteely and St Patrick’s Athletic that the atmosphere in City’s training ground would have been deflated. The players have seen their season dissolve in the past fortnight and could have felt sorry for themselves but they showed great hunger with their display.
Yes, City were sluggish and sloppy at times during the second half but the damage was done in the opening 45 minutes of the game and it was always going to be difficult for the players to replicate their first-half showing after the interval.
City’s opening 45 minutes were their best of the season. The players never let up and Athlone could not live with the pace City played at.
Dylan McGlade.— Cork City FC (@CorkCityFC) September 3, 2021
Pick that out! 🚀#CCFC84 pic.twitter.com/cotqbp5jqn
The second half was more about seeing the game out and I’m sure the City players would have become a little anxious about holding onto their lead after conceding so early on the restart especially after letting so many leads slip this season.
City did look nervous in the second period and it could have been a different outcome were it not for Mark McNulty. The veteran keeper made a number of saves throughout the half, the standout save being when the 40-year-old denied Kurtis Byrne a second goal with 20 minutes still remaining in the contest.
Of course, the early goals played a major role in the outcome and the atmosphere of the game. The players gave the supporters something to cheer about early on and the fans really got behind their team. Supporters should not underestimate the effect that they can have on players by the atmosphere they create.
Even though City have played more important games this season, after months of playing in front of empty stands, the noise created by the City supporters would have made this game feel far important to the players than the previous game.
Cian Bargary was back in the City starting line-up for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury against Cabinteely in June, and he made a difference to the side. Yes, he did tire – like most of the City players – but that was expected when he is only returning from injury.
He looked dangerous in attack and he has an asset of having a long throw which – something that can be very useful for a side, particularly in the First Division.
Cian Murphy was unplayable in the first half. The striker caused the Athlone defence all sorts of problems and they could not deal with his pace. His goal typified the sort of player he is; someone who works tirelessly for the team and chases lost causes. Murphy’s goal ended up being a routine finish but it’s the striker’s willingness to believe that an opportunity can be created from little hope that allowed him to capitalise on Killian Cantwell’s mistake.
Unfortunately for Murphy, had it not been for some poor finishing from his teammates, he would have at least have registered one assist in the game. His link-up play was excellent in the opening half but he did fatigue and struggled to hold the ball-up in the second half.
I think everyone in the ground knew what McGlade wanted to do – cut in from the left-hand side and get a shot off – including the Athlone defenders but they were powerless to prevent him from doing it.
Credit must also go for the part Ronan Hurley played in the goal because he makes an outstanding run to take away the defender, which creates the space for McGlade to get his to cut-inside and get his strike off for his jaw-dropping goal.
Hurley looks a different player to the one we saw at the beginning of the season. He was nervous in City’s early fixtures and seemed to panic in possession.
He looks much more comfortable in games now and has a belief in his ability that was there at the start of the campaign.
This was a game that could have easily gone the other way had City not approached it with the right attitude and Healy deserves a lot of praise for the way he was able to motivate his players for the game.