Cork take title with stunning display
SOCCER/National League, Premier Division/Cork City - 2 Derry City - 0: To the many people in the game who have notched up reasons to bear a grudge against Roy Keane down the years add the names of the entire Cork City team. Who else, after all, could relegate a first league title for the southerners in 12 years to the status of the day's second biggest soccer story in the area?
At a little before 9.40 last night, however, all that was forgotten by the 7,000 or so who packed into Turner's Cross to see their team triumph, and their jubilation at the end was the equal of the performance they had just witnessed.
Simply, the home side turned in a quite stunning performance, as good as any they have managed this season, and perhaps half a dozen players played as well as they have done this year.
For Damien Richardson, three times a runner-up as a player and three times too as a manager, the monkey was finally off his back. And his team did it as he had predicted as the home side swept forward from the opening second, and almost took the lead in the 25th second when John O'Flynn headed narrowly over.
It was a shock to the system Derry City never recovered from in the first half. Looking stunned by the pace with which the game was being taken to them, they never quite got to grips with things in midfield and were repeatedly reduced to scrambling the ball out of the box to safety as Cork pressed them from every direction, but most notably from the right where Roy O'Donovan resumed his more familiar role thanks to the return of O'Flynn.
The 20-year-old enjoyed mixed fortunes with his attempts to cross the ball, but after George O'Callaghan had sucked both Derry central defenders out towards the other side of the visitors' area before the ball was switched, his 18th-minute effort was perfection itself and O'Flynn stepped up, entirely unmarked, to head the ball past David Forde from a couple of yards.
When the mayhem died down, Derry set about regrouping, but they continued to look second-best with Kevin Deery finding himself overrun in the more defensive of the two central midfield roles, Killian Brennan failing to make the required impact out on the left and Gary Beckett, never mind the more advanced Mark Farren, cutting a remote figure in attack.
Cork's play lost some of its sustained fluency, but there were still flashes of the early brilliance from Joe Gamble, Liam Kearney and O'Callaghan.
Denis Behan did well, too, after being thrown on 10 minutes in for the injured Neale Fenn, but there must have been plenty of anxious moments for Richardson and the rest of the Cork bench early on as they wondered whether O'Flynn would survive the rigours of such a sudden return.
City manager Stephen Kenny kept faith with his starting 11 over the break, but must have been hoping for a swift and substantial improvement, particularly in midfield where his players were finding it impossible to retain possession.
It didn't materialise, although there should have been a boost of a different kind five minutes after the restart when O'Donovan, already on a booking, should have been sent off for a dreadful, lunging challenge on Seán Hargan who, five minutes later, made way for Pat McCourt.
Barely had the midfielder made it on to the pitch or, more importantly, the Derry back four had time to reorganise than Cork won possession and powered into precisely the area where Hargan would have been.
O'Donovan fed Behan who sprinted to the line before cutting the ball back low for Kearney to poke a left-footed shot home from 10 yards.
It could so easily have been three shortly afterwards when O'Donovan broke clear, but Forde saved well with his foot and Eddie McCallion did brilliantly to prevent Behan following up.
Then, finally, came something at the other end for the 500 or so Derry fans to cheer with Gareth McGlynn crossing for McCourt, whose header was good though not good enough to beat Michael Devine who saved quite wonderfully after being wrong-footed.
A goal then might have provided the platform for the visitors to battle their way back, but it wasn't to be and Cork continued to hold the upper hand. Again O'Donovan went close to extending their lead and again Forde saved.
There were other chances too, while in the dying second Devine had to touch a Brennan free on to the crossbar.
But the crowd knew now that the game, not to mention the league, was as good as in the bag.
CORK CITY: Devine; Horgan, Bennett, Murray, Murphy; O'Donovan (O'Brien 84 mins), O'Callaghan, Gamble, Kearney; Fenn (Behan 10 mins), O'Flynn (Coughlan 88 mins).
DERRY CITY: Forde; McCallion, Delaney, Hutton, Hargan (McCourt 65 mins); McGlynn, Martyn (O'Flynn 75 mins), Deery (Murphy 68 mins), K Brennan; Beckett, Farren.
Referee: D McKeon (Dublin).