Dublin avoid surprise defeat to Cork with powerful finish

Jim Gavin confirmed that Jack McCaffrey will be unavailable for the championship

Brian Hurley celebrates a score against Dublin in Croke Park. Photograph: Inpho

Brian Hurley celebrates a score against Dublin in Croke Park. Photograph: Inpho


Dublin 2-14 Cork 2-10

Jim Gavin has confirmed that current footballer of the year Jack McCaffrey will be unavailable to Dublin for this year’s championship.

“Jack’s a fourth year medical student in UCD and he will be heading off to Africa to get some volunteer work in a hospital for the summer and doing some travelling afterwards,” said Gavin.

“We have known this for some time. We have given Jack some time to reflect on it. He’s part of the big Dublin GAA family, he knows that we are there for him whenever he wants to return back to play for the county. He will always be welcome back.

“He just let us know it was something he wants to do. We always espouse them to get the balance in their lives and the choices that they make will define them. He’s 22 years of age, he’s got his life ahead of him. We would like to have Jack around but my concentration now is the players I do have and trying to get a performance against Down next week.”

For all the concerns about Dublin losing Rory O’Carroll and now McCaffrey to temporary emigration, Cormac Costello looks primed to keep the scoreboard ticking all summer long.

And, despite Alan Brogan’s retirement, the old guard clearly remain as reliable as ever. It was James McCarthy who landed the killer blow in injury time here while Diarmuid Connolly produced his latest herculean performance.

Cian O’Sullivan was only overshadowed by the above names.

But the ‘We Are Dublin So We Shall Prevail’ theory got a workout on this winter’s night (it doesn’t feel like March up among the Croke Park gods).

Cork, via late call-up Colm O’Neill, rushed into a three point lead before Paul Kerrigan’s fine strike made it 0-4 to 0-0 after 10 minutes.

Dublin initially responded in languid fashion. Connolly strode into Cork territory only to be blocked by the scampering Brian O’Driscoll.

Paddy Andrews showed next, feigning to shoot and, presuming the cover out-foxed, opened his body to open Dublin’s account. Sean Kiely blocked him down. Eoin Cadogan had an authoritative gait to him as well.

This was Cork as they should always be. Peader Healy finally seemed to corral a performance out of his new players. Or maybe they were simply quickened by the fear of what Dublin could do to them.

The first goal came off O’Neill’s left boot. It was never a penalty but Roscommon whistle-blower Paddy Neilan saw fit to punish Philly McMahon for laying a finger on Peter Kelleher after Luke Connolly’s fine delivery. O’Neill buried the gift.

1-4 without reply brought Dublin to life. Within 90 seconds Bernard Brogan had showed for a ball he immediately and neatly laid off to Connolly. The rolling left foot effort nestled in the far corner.

Perfect football.

Andrews finally put a bullet between the Cork posts and we had ourselves a genuine Dublin versus Cork fixture (unlike a miserable hurling show from the Rebels).

Surely Dublin would take over. Johnny Cooper was initially looking solid in O’Carroll’s vacated three jersey. That was until Kerrigan wriggled away from the Na Fianna defender to alleyoop for Kelleher to punch down a second Cork goal.

Cooper quickly got his first of two yellow cards from Neilan to go with an earlier booking for Paul Flynn. Luke Connolly lasered the resulting free through the posts.

That made it 2-5 to 1-1. That’s the only way to beat them. Hit them for as many early scores as your boots will permit, hit them with everything you have in you and see what they come back with. Keep landing blows.

Connolly posted a long range free, from hand, but Colm O’Driscoll momentarily freed himself from sweeper duty to smack another point over from distance.

Seven point game as half-time crept up on us and not a single soul among the 20,280 gathering felt the cold.

Keep landing blows. O’Neill dropped another one in on Stephen Cluxton’s square but the Dublin captain was not there. Brian Hurley, in his four minute cameo, knuckled a ninth Cork score despite the presence of Dublin goalkeeper Michael Savage.

Dublin hailed possession down on Brogan but Jamie O’Sullivan was better for it. They had to be satisfied with a point from Connolly’s resulting 45.

That was 1-2 from the St Vincent’s scoring machine and still Dublin trailed this red blaze by seven at the turn.

“We just said we would keep working and put Cork on the back foot,” said the rarely quoted Connolly afterwards. “Johnny was unlucky to be sent off but we drove on, really drove on.”

This is what they do. O’Carroll is already gone and news that McCaffrey is to follow had Dublin folk cursing the need for these curious, well educated young men to see the world for themselves.

Gavin is hardly lacking talent. He reacted at half-time by hooking Eric Lowndes and Brian Fenton as Mick Fitzsimons and John Small came in.

The inevitable cat fight came with Cork men leaning into McCarthy and Connolly at every opportunity. Costello hit a nice free before picking out Andrews with a curling foot pass. Two quick points. Cork needed to respond but Connolly and Kevin Crowley were off target.

Dublin kept at them through the physicality of Connolly and McCarthy.

The reward was another Costello free from out on the left. That’s where all their joy was coming with Connolly also whipping a lovely point in heavy traffic.

Just like that it was a three point game.

O’Neill came off on 43 minutes, perhaps an injury or maybe he ran out of legs on his first outing of 2016. Either way, Cork have no one else like the Castlehaven assassin.

By this stage Gavin had removed the other part of his young midfield as the direct running Shane Carthy relieved Emmet Ó Conghaile. Despite this highly competitive contest, Dublin’s manager continued to survey options ahead of warmer days (Dean Rock replaced Brogan).

On a rare escape from their own territory, Cork should have had a third goal on 52 minutes when Kelleher, again, out jumped Savage but the butt of the post saved Dublin’s understudy.

Cork couldn’t find a second half score - keep landing blows they did not - as Costello ended a 12 minute scoreless period with two frees.

One point game now.

Costello wasted no time levelling matters and had Dublin ahead before the hour mark (even planting one point from play).

All these frees came off relentless Dublin pressure and utter dominance under Michael Aodh Martin kick outs.

Cork instantly responded with a Goulding wide. And then another.

For all Cork’s accuracy and enthusiasm before the break the 0-9 to 0-0 second half return would have been disastrous. Even at this juncture in their season.

But an end game of substance was delivered when Cooper was sent off for a second yellow, Hurley pointed the resulting free and Ruairi Deane squared it up entering the last five minutes.

Costello nudged the champions ahead but Mark Collins kicked Cork level once again.

Kevin McManamon waddled into the battle and drew a free which the nerveless Costello landed.

McCarthy’s goal put a gloss on this generally valuable outing but the loss of the 2015 footballer of the year overshadows the victory.

Dublin are not the same without him or O’Carroll. These cold hard facts will test Gavin’s men to their limit in the months ahead.

Dublin: M Savage; J Cooper, P McMahon, D Byrne; J McCarthy (1-0), C O’Sullivan, E Lowndes; B Fenton, E Ó Conghaile; P Flynn, D Connolly (1-3), C Kilkenny; C Costello (0-9, eight frees), P Andrews (0-2), B Brogan. Substitutions: J Small for E Lowndes, M Fitzsimons for B Fenton (both half-time), S Carthy for E Ó Conghaile (47 mins), D Rock for B Brogan (48 mins), K McManamon for P Andrew (65 mins).

Cork: M Aodh Martin; J O’Sullivan, E Cadogan, K Crowley; B O’Driscoll, T Clancy, K O’Driscoll; S Kiely, I McGuire; C O’Driscoll (0-1), M Collins (0-1), L Connolly (0-1); P Kerrigan (0-1), P Kelleher (1-0), C O’Neill (1-3, 1-0 pen, 0-2 frees). Substitutions: B Hurley (0-2, one free) for P Kerrigan (30-34 mins) and for K O’Driscoll (53 mins), D Goulding for C O’Neill (43 mins), K O’Hanlon for S Kiely (49 mins), R Deane (0-1) for L Connolly (56 mins), A O’Sullivan for P Kelleher (66 mins), M Collins for P Kerrigan (69 mins).

Referee: P Neilan (Roscommon).

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