Dublin eventually find the right gear and leave Cork trailing
Holders stage stunning second-half recovery, as 17-point turnaround yields decisive win
Bernard Brogan of Dublin gets away from Cork’s Michael Shields during the National League semi-final at Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Dublin 2-20 Cork 2-13
Without fear of being accused of over-simplification – whatever about the charge of peddling a cliche – you could categorise this as “a game of two halves”.
The only quibble might be that whereas Dublin trailed by eight at half-time in the Allianz Football League Division One semi-final at Croke Park, it actually got worse for them in the opening minutes of the second half.
The salient detail though is that the All-Ireland champions and league holders finished so urgently that Cork trailed in a distant seven points behind – a margin that was expanding all the time until the referee’s final whistle brought proceedings to a close.
If that doesn’t satisfy as a measure of the shifting fortunes, try this: Daniel Goulding kicked Cork 10 ahead, 2-11 to 0-7, in the 37th minute. During the match’s remaining 33 minutes, they were out-scored 0-2 to 2-13 – a 17-point turnaround.
This was the holders’ best display of the league and their highest score. Aside from satisfaction at taking another step towards retaining the first of their titles from last year, manager Jim Gavin was able to re-introduce two of his All Star forwards.
Paul Flynn started in one of the now familiar re-shuffles before the throw-in, and Bernard Brogan, back for his first appearance since last year’s All-Ireland in what was a productive 25 minutes or so during which he kicked five points.
So, having experimented with winning from the front a week previously against Tyrone, Dublin decided to sit well back and give themselves something to aim at.
Cork were one of the teams – final opponents Derry were the other – to have defeated Dublin in the regulation matches and under new manager Brian Cuthbert the need to replace a host of established names and introduce newcomers had been addressed so successfully that they topped Division One and showcased some exciting forward talent.
All of this was in evidence yesterday in the early stages after Paddy Andrews kicked Dublin ahead in the second minute.
Cork went to work with the in-form Brian Hurley toying with Jonny Cooper on the left and kicking an equaliser. Two goals and a point came tumbling within a minute.
Paul Kerrigan embarked on one of those blistering runs through the opposition defence and found Colm O’Neill loose on the inside.
O’Neill, who made his return from a third cruciate injury when the teams met last month with a cameo that decided the match, slammed a left-foot shot into the net and added a point almost immediately.
Hurley hung a dropping ball in on Stephen Cluxton’s goalmouth and Mark Collins beat the Dublin goalkeeper to the punch. Nicky Devereux helped it on its way as he scrambled back to cover the line. Six points up with seven minutes gone.
Dublin were on the rack. Cork allowed them largely uncontested short re-starts but were sharper and quicker, dispossessing and pouring forward as well as picking out well-judged passes into a rampant attack.
Afterwards Gavin wasn’t minded to criticise his defence, focusing instead on how easy Cork found it to set up attacking moves.
Hurley was in clover, grazing five points with his exceptional kicking in the first half and leaving Rory O’Carroll at his wit’s end. As they steadily built the score Dublin were woefully ineffective at the other end. Flynn kicked a fourth point at the end of the first quarter to trail 0-4 to 2-5.
There followed shortly afterwards the sort of sequence that characterises teams that are out-of-tune. Five attacks in six minutes yielded nothing but fumbles, turnovers, a wide, one under-hit and so the dismal litany unfolded.
The one hint of an upturn was the arrival of Eoghan O’Gara as a replacement for Jason Whelan in the 26th minute. He fired off two points before the break but it still looked all over for Dublin.
Cork nonetheless resumed as they had finished. Jamie O’Sullivan, up from the full backs, availed of an error to kick a point and Goulding added another. Dublin’s only interval switch had been to put Flynn into centrefield and bring on Davy Byrne for Declan O’Mahony.
It was current Footballer of the Year Michael Darragh Macauley who made the biggest impact in Dublin’s revival. He was helped by the exceptional industry of Alan Brogan, a re-energised Diarmuid Connolly and the clever probings of Philip McMahon from the back.
But it was Macauley who got the goal in the 40th minute that kick-started the revival. McMahon’s shot came off the post and the centrefielder was on hand for his second goal in successive matches.
A Goulding free took the gloss off it a bit but Cork would from then on manage only one more score.
Ken O’Halloran’s kick-outs were pillaged by the re-born Dublin middle third – as well as Macauley, Connolly caught a couple and Flynn weighed in. Anything that broke, broke blue and quickly Cork went from comfortable to besieged.
Bernard Brogan’s frees plus a string of points from elsewhere – interrupted just once at the end of the third quarter by Patrick Kelly’s well-timed run from centre back and a point which would be the team’s last – had the match tied up on the hour when Macauley barrelled his way in for the 16th point.
Dublin had already headed towards the horizon when referee Ciarán Branagan – who unusually showed no cards of any hue throughout the match – awarded a penalty to Bernard Brogan after allowing him an advantage before calling play back.
Connolly expertly placed the ball and sent O’Halloran – who had earlier prevented another goal by tipping Andrews’s 53rd-minute shot over the bar – the wrong way.
Dublin will play Derry in the final, as they did 38 years ago, in a fortnight’s time.
DUBLIN: 1 S Cluxton; 2 J Cooper (0-1), 3 R O’Carroll, 4 P McMahon; 5 J McCarthy, 7 K Nolan, 20 N Devereux; 8 MD Macauley (1-1), 9 D O’Mahony; 26 P Flynn (0-1), 12 D Connolly (1-2, goal a penalty and one free), 10 J Whelan; 13 K McManamon (0-1), 15 P Andrews (0-3), 11 A Brogan (0-1). Subs: 14 E O’Gara (0-3) for Whelan (26 mins), 18 D Byrne (0-1) for O’Mahony (half-time), 17 B Brogan (0-5, three frees) for McManamon (44 mins), 23 D Nelson for Nolan (57 mins), 25 C Reddin (0-1) for Andrews (66 mins), 9 T Brady for O’Gara (71 mins).
CORK: 1 K O’Halloran; 2 M Shields, 4 Tom Clancy, 3 J O’Sullivan (0-1); 7 D Cahalane, 6 P Kelly (0-1), 5 J Loughrey; 8 F Goold (0-1), 9 A O’Sullivan; 10 M Collins (1-1), 11 D O’Connor (0-1), 12 P Kerrigan; 13 D Goulding (0-2, one free), 14 B Hurley (0-5), 23 C O’Neill (1-1). Subs: 25 J O’Rourke for O’Connor (44 mins), 24 A Walsh for Goulding (48 mins), 15 J Hayes for O’Neill (56 mins), 20 N Galvin for Clancy (60 mins), 21 Tomás Clancy for A O’Sullivan (63 mins), 19 K O’Driscoll for Kerrigan (71 mins).
Referee: C Branagan (Down).