WHEN you consider the opposition they faced, the injury and the suspension list they had to deal with it, it was no surprise to Cork City seven league game unbeaten run ended by Shelbourne at Turner's Cross on Friday night.
City can have no complaints about the result. Shels were better on the night and showed why they are champions-elect.
When I saw both team’s line-ups, initially I was concerned about how City were going to cope with Shels at set-pieces. The Dubliners are dangerous from set-pieces at the best of times and with City having to manage without six of their centre-halves, it was always going to be a tough ask for them to get anything from the game.
There was the argument that with so many defenders out through injury or suspension, that this was the ideal opportunity to for City manager Colin Healy to give Cathal Heffernan is debut instead of playing, but I feel that Healy made the right decision not to play the 16-year-old.
Heffernan had already featured for the Republic of Ireland U17s in both games against Mexico the previous Sunday and Tuesday to Friday’s game and to have selected Heffernan against Shelbourne would have been a mistake and Healy was protecting him by not making him play his third game in just six days.
Giving a 16-year-old, who had just played two games that week, his debut against the league leaders and play alongside a player who is not a natural centre-back would not have been fair on Heffernan.
What would have happened had the 16-year-old started against Shels and all of those circumstances lead to Heffernan not having the greatest of games? Would that have delayed his progress? I think it would have, and although Friday was not the night for Heffernan, I would be surprised if we don’t see him feature at some stage before the end of the season.
It was clear from the early stages Shels’ game plan was going to be to put as many high balls into City’s box as possible. From Ian Morris’ side’s first free-kick from just inside the City half, Shels got all over their big players up. Rather than drop deep and encourage Shels to play high balls into the City area, Healy instructed his players to play a high line when defending set-pieces, as to stop Shels from putting the ball into the box.
This was a risky instruction because it makes it easier for Shels to get in behind City – which did they twice in the game – but overall, the tactic was a success.
City will be disappointed with the two goals they conceded. They have to do more to try and stop the cross reaching Shane Farrell at the back post for the first goal and there can be no excuses for the way they defended and gave away the penalty that lead to Ryan Brennan scoring from the spot.
I understand, players were playing out of position but that is still no excuse for the way they defended the long ball that led to the penalty. Darragh Crowley has to go and meet the ball with his head.
City didn’t manage to trouble Shels until the latter stages of the game but by then, the contest was over. The league leaders used all of their experience in the last 20 minutes to hold on to their lead. They put the bodies on the line by blocking shots.
Last but by no means least, I must talk about the emotional, fitting tribute paid to the late John Kennedy in the 31st minute to recognise John’s 31 years of volunteer service.
I will always remember John for his appearances as Corky, the City mascot, or looking in the Donie Forde Stand during games and seeing John doing everything he could to making sure that those attending the game in the family enclosure section of the stand had the most enjoyable experience.
Of course, John did so much more and is and will be missed.