Eye-catching Cork victory sets up Mayo quarter-final
Impressive performance bodes well for crunch game in Croke Park
Cork manager Brian Cuthbert: “We were under so much pressure, coming into this match, we just had to win it, by hook or by crook.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Cork 0-21 Sligo 1-11
Verse one of Cork’s redemption song is now neatly and predictably written and the second stanza will shift to a completely different tempo.
Here, it was not just the ease with which they beat Sligo – setting up an All-Ireland quarter-final showdown with Mayo – but the manner of the victory. Gone was the flaky, lethargic look of their Munster final defeat to Kerry, replaced by a stubborn intent and especially so in defence.
Most of the time they played with two or three sweepers. And on other occasions flooded men behind the ball whenever Sligo briefly held possession. It wasn’t spectacular to watch, although it was effective. Sligo hardly got a look in. And whenever Cork shifted the ball forward, Colm O’Neill (who finished with 0-10) and Donal Óg Hodnett licked it up, as did Brian Hurley and Paul Kerrigan (who added 0-5).
Vital victory The only worry for Cork, it seems, is whether they’ve blown their cover, revealing exactly what Mayo will
confront in Croke Park on Sunday.
“We were under so much pressure coming into this match we just had to win it, by hook or by crook,” said manager Brian Cuthbert.
“So showing a hand? I don’t know. All we wanted to do was to get back into Croke Park. Whatever way we got there didn’t really matter. I suppose our confidence, our character, everything else about us, was questioned after the Kerry game. So we changed the system, it worked quite well for us, and provided a lot more cover for us at the back.”
Indeed Cork played from back to front – huge amounts of ball fed through the midfield pairing of Aidan Walsh and young Ian Maguire, who had an excellent debut. Sligo found themselves eight points down at the break. And although they salvaged some pride when Stephen Coen fisted in a goal on 51 minutes, brilliantly set up by Adrian Marren, that proved a minor flaw in Cork’s fortress of a defence.
“Yeah, we’re disappointed we gave away the goal,” added Cuthbert. “But when it comes to games, the set-up going in sometimes works, and sometimes it doesn’t. You’ve to take each team on its merits. And Mayo will cause us lots of different problems, with their size and their football.
“We went up to Castlebar, in the league and they decimated us to be honest. They’re a very experienced team, very physical. And that’s an area we’re going to suffer on because we’re not a huge side. Now the turnaround is so quick as well so we’ll have to see what their strengths and weaknesses are and come up with something. But we’re very happy to be there.”
Kerrigan was certainly back to his old form (his fisted point back in vogue too) and Daniel Goulding, Fintan Goold and Damien Cahalane all came off the bench (Cahalahe added a point also) as a reminder of Cork’s depth. Thomas Clancy and Eoin Cadogan were almost menacing in the way they cleared some ball and in the end it was little wonder that Sligo scored no more than 1-5 from play.
Disappointed Sligo “We were just trying to break that momentum, keep them on the back foot,” said Sligo manager Pat Flanagan, with an understandable air of resignation. “In fairness the boys never gave up, but we’ll have to take stock again, assess the situation and see where we’re at.”
Flanagan also reiterated his fear that the championship format – provincial and qualifier – does little to favour counties like Sligo.
“There has to a better way, but no one seems to want to know about it. It’s very difficult for the players, and people like myself, to try to keep driving on every year,” said Flanagan.