Uninspiring Dublin do enough to swat Cork aside and book semi-final date

Con O’Callaghan and James McCarthy badly missed as Leinster champions go through with unshowy display

Dublin 0-21 Cork 0-10

Nothing here to scare the horses but Dublin canter on regardless. Despite never looking overly impressive, they eased away from Cork on Saturday night without having to work up much of a sweat along the way. It was one of those evenings when Dean Rock kicked his frees unerringly, Brian Fenton popped his scores stylishly and their greater sense of cohesion generally bought them a couple of points for every one Cork could manage.

Is it All-Ireland winning form? No, it is not. But then it doesn’t have to be just yet. They ambled through to the semi-final without ever threatening a goal, with only one of their starting forwards scoring from play in the second half, with Cormac Costello and Paddy Small looking pretty toothless inside. Con O’Callaghan was missing here – his reputation grows with every second he doesn’t play.

Dessie Farrell gave them a six-and-a-half out of 10 afterwards, which felt about right. Jonny Cooper went home with the man of the match award, which seemed to go his way primarily because he pulled off a full-length block in either half. That’ll tell you how little there was to catch the eye across the 70 minutes.

“It’s just about the result,” Farrell said afterwards. “Moving on, a major step-up is required. The first half obviously wasn’t what we would have wanted, we picked it up in the second half but probably the four-week lay-off didn’t help. It took us a while to shake the cobwebs but we strung some good passages of play together in the second half and we were a little bit better.”

Beyond the result, the most significant aspect of the day was clearly the absence of not just O’Callaghan but also James McCarthy from the Dublin 26. Farrell wouldn’t reveal what the nature of the injuries are – God forbid the people who pay to support his team would ever be kept up to date on these matters – but he did concede that they were both serious and that time is short.

It might appear difficult to make a case that they were missed, given the final margin. But McCarthy has been the beating heart of Dublin teams in tight spots for over a decade and there’s no question Farrell’s side are a different proposition with O’Callaghan in the 15. For them to miss the matchday squad completely suggests fairly serious ailments. Against better opposition than Cork, it won’t take much to tip the scales against them.

Indeed for long spells in the first half here, Cork were far from the beaten docket most judges had them down as beforehand. Brian Hurley had Eoin Murchan on toast in the full-forward line, winning every tussle between them when the ball came in. Eoghan McSweeney and Cathal O’Mahony were lively too and with Seán Powter throwing in the occasional incision from deep, Cork had the makings of a coherent attacking plan.

Problem was, the plan isn’t much use if you don’t finish your chances. Cork’s shooting day started shakily and never really recovered. Hurley, O’Mahony, Steven Sherlock, Mattie Taylor and Rory Maguire all found themselves in prime shooting positions in the first half alone but muffed their chances. The climb was steep enough without loading weights into their backpacks.

Dublin’s shooting was mediocre enough at the other end but they were still able to patch together enough to lead 0-10 to 0-7 at half-time. The pick of the Dublin scores came from Lee Gannon and Seán Bugler steaming from deep. Ciarán Kilkenny was well-marshalled by Mattie Taylor but still managed to pop up for a couple of trademark scores. Tom Lahiff finished the best Dublin move of the half after quick hands from Paddy Small and Fenton around the D.

But overall, it was pretty pedestrian stuff. Without O’Callaghan as an outlet inside, Dublin were deliberate in possession and generally lacking in stardust. At the other end, McSweeney, Hurley and Sherlock all nailed good scores to keep Cork ticking but they needed to be the ones who came out firing after the break.

Instead, it was Dublin who tacked on the first five points of the second period. Rock didn’t offer an awful lot in open play but he was steady as the tides from his frees. Fenton weighed in with a silken effort after good work from Gannon and just like that, Dublin were 0-16 to 0-7 ahead without having to find much more than third gear to get there.

“We needed something to cling onto after half-time,” said John Cleary afterwards. “There was a nice breeze there and we just couldn’t get a grip in the third quarter there. Dublin pushed up on our kick-outs and we couldn’t get to grips with it. Ultimately that was the complete winning and losing of the game – in the third quarter we just couldn’t make the ball stick and Dublin powered on. We had no answer.”

To their credit, Dublin’s accuracy was flawless all the way home. Aaron Byrne came off the bench to whip a fine point on a referee’s advantage but when he skewed a bad one left of the posts in the 75th minute, it was the first Dublin wide of the second half. They took 13 shots after the break and kicked 11 points, with Byrne’s wide and a Rock shot off the posts accounting for the others.

It wasn’t sexy, it wasn’t spectacular but it was enough. For now.

Dublin: Evan Comerford; Eoin Murchan, Mick Fitzsimons, Lee Gannon (0-2); John Small, Jonny Cooper, Seán Bugler (0-1); Brian Fenton (0-2), Tom Lahiff (0-1); Niall Scully, Brian Howard, Ciarán Kilkenny (0-3); Cormac Costello (0-1), Dean Rock (0-9, 0-8 frees, 0-1 mark), Paddy Small (0-1).

Subs: Lorcan O’Dell for Bugler (53 mins); Cian Murphy for Cooper (57 mins); Aaron Byrne (0-1) for P Small (61 mins); Davy Byrne for J Small (70 mins).

Cork: Michéal Aodh Martin; Seán Powter, Maurice Shanley, Kevin O’Donovan; John Cooper, Rory Maguire, Mattie Taylor; Ian Maguire, Colm O’Callaghan; Paul Ring, Eoghan McSweeney (0-1), John O’Rourke (0-1); Steven Sherlock (0-3, 0-1 free, 0-1 mark), Brian Hurley (0-2), Cathal O’Mahony (0-3, 0-2 frees).

Subs: Sean Meehan for Ring (49 mins); Daniel Dineeen for McSweeney (49 mins); Brian Hayes for Sherlock (54 mins); Cian Kiely for Cooper (57 mins); Blake Murphy for O’Callaghan (70 mins).

Referee: Seán Hurson (Tyrone)

Match statistics

DUBLIN

Score: 0-21

First half: 0-10

Second half: 0-11

From play: 0-12

Wides: 7

Frees conceded: 15

Yellow cards: 3

Black cards: 0

Red cards: 0

CORK

Score: 0-10

First half: 0-7

Second half: 0-3

From play: 0-6

Wides: 13

Frees conceded: 14

Yellow cards: 1

Black cards: 0

Red cards: 0

Attendance: 50,874

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times