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Monday 23 October 2017

Cork lay on capital punishment

All-Ireland semi-final jinx strikes unlucky Daly again

ANTHONY DALY must have his bellyful of epic semi-finals ending in that familiar refrain "What if?" It happened against Cork in 2005 when he managed a Clare team seemingly destined for September until a storming last-quarter comeback from the men in red. Now it has happened again, with Dublin, and once more Cork have been his nemesis.

All told, Daly has lost four All-Ireland semi-finals as a manager and yesterday's reversal to Cork must rank pretty close – on the trauma scale – to the first of those four, eight years ago.

The final scoreline of 1-24 to 1-19 might suggest differently, but this was a game Dublin could have won. Whether they deserved to win is another matter, because for much of an absorbing 70 minutes played at relentless pace, you always got a sense that Cork might possess that smidgen more forward cuteness to eke out the scores when they mattered most.

And that's how it transpired. Patrick Horgan's 66th-minute contender for 'Poacher's Goal of the Season' – capitalising on the merest of slip-up invitations by Gary Maguire to flick the ball to the Hill 16 net – finally put four-point daylight between two duelling bravehearts who had been level on 15 occasions.

Yet the big talking point – when it was all over and Cork had extended their lead to a flattering five-point chasm –didn't focus on Horgan's goal but something that happened 16 minutes previously.

From the 50th minute, Dublin had found themselves in the daunting position of trying to hold out with 14 men after Ryan O'Dwyer – a player who always hurls his heart out for his adopted county, but sometimes a little too much – succumbed to a second yellow card.

On each occasion, the Tipp native was censured by Wexford whistler James Owens for a frontal challenge. Soon after the final whistle, just after glimpsing the 'Sunday Game' reruns, Daly accepted that O'Dwyer's second tackle on Lorcán McLoughlin probably merited yellow but he strongly argued the point that his first offence, on Luke O'Farrell, was no booking.

The Dublin boss may well have a point, partly because it happened barely a minute into the game – even if timing should have no sway on either a referee or the rule book. But as we all saw with Henry Shefflin two weeks ago, a player who carries a yellow card (however harsh) from the opening minutes has to be doubly careful.

Mistimed

It's not in O'Dwyer's nature to check himself or pull out of tackles; he probably wouldn't be half the player he is if that were his mindset. And yet on this occasion, having put in a typically lung-bursting shift, his day was ruined by a second mistimed shoulder that caught McLoughlin too high and too frontally for the referee's liking.

The stereotype used to proclaim that opponents were at their most dangerous when numerically challenged.

In the modern game, however, that theory has dubious merit and has been exposed for the canard it is, three times in the last month.

Cork know all about the swings and arrows of outrageous 14-man misfortune. They eventually couldn't cope after Horgan's subsequently rescinded red in the Munster final against Limerick.

They benefitted from Shefflin's early walk in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Now, for the second game running, they've pressed home their extra-man advantage.

While Dublin supporters may wail and moan about the unfairness of it all, the counter-argument is that they could have finished with 13 men. On 57 minutes, with Cork having edged a point ahead, Liam Rushe came storming out with the ball after winning a throw-in ball close to his own goal ... but with Horgan hanging out of Dublin's centre-back and a free-out just awarded, he swung back with the hurl into the Corkman's midriff.

On another day, especially if it were 15 on 15, he could have walked for striking. But after the sternest of lectures from the man in black, Rushe escaped with yellow. And then – in a cameo that summed up the player's barnstorming second half – the Sky Blue No 6 won the resultant throw-in ball too!

Still, for all the gutsy second-half resistance shown by Rushe and Conal Keaney, and by Peter Kelly and the herculean Danny Sutcliffe over the full 70 minutes, there was already a sense that Cork would be the last men standing when the final whistle sounded.

Struggling

Dublin were always struggling to make any forward inroads in the home straight: they managed only three points (and just one from play, via Sutcliffe) after being reduced to 14 men whereas Cork hit them for 1-6 in the same period.

Neither of their two marquee inside forwards, David O'Callaghan and Paul Ryan, scored from play in that second period. Dotsy, in fact, was replaced soon after the hour while Ryan's free-taking slightly unravelled after the break, missing three including one 50-metre effort soon after Horgan's goal. That's what pressure does to you.

Later again, Ryan went for the jugular from a close-range free but Anthony Nash – Cork hurling's answer to Stephen Cluxton – followed up his three second-half frees with a second important save. Game, set and match to the Rebels, cheered on by an enormous Cork army who (judged on the decibel and colour count) appeared to outnumber their rivals in blue.

And yet, Dublin will harbour many reasons for regret when they eventually summon up the will to take out yesterday's DVD.

The first half had been played at breakneck pace throughout, and not even the adrenaline shot of a 30th-minute goal – emphatically kicked to the net by David Treacy – could deliver the momentum Dublin craved to shake Cork from their coat-tails.

Treacy's goal, cleverly engineered by Ryan, restored a narrow one-point lead. Yet by half-time, Cork had regrouped to edge one in front themselves – 0-15 to 1-11.

On the restart, Dublin upped the ante and Keaney's influence was especially pronounced as they crept two points clear by the 45th minute.

Yet it could, conceivably, have been more. O'Dwyer went for goal after 43 minutes but his shot was too high and straight at the unbeatable Nash. A few minutes later, Ryan missed a testing 70-metre touchline free to put them three clear.

Then Luke O'Farrell cut the margin to a solitary point. Then O'Dwyer picked up his fateful second yellow. Then, from the ensuing free, Nash brushed aside the boos to bisect the uprights.

Level-pegging. And 22 minutes later, it would be game over. And summer over too for Daly and his mould-breaking Leinster champions.

Heartbreak city for the Dubs. Heaven-sent for the second capital.

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