More rebel hell for the Dubs
WE'LL start with the positive Sky Blue spin on yesterday's oscillating Allianz Hurling League semi-final at a raucous Nowlan Park: to lose with virtually the last puck is surely better than to be beaten out the Croke Park gate, as Dublin were by the same Cork opposition last month.
Then again, when this latest dose of Leeside-inflicted punishment involves the loss of a 12-point lead, you are bound to be left facing some awkward questions about the potential damage to morale on the cusp of championship.
Ger Cunningham repelled that query with the straightest of bats when he eventually emerged from a despondent Dublin dressing-room.
Asked about any psychological residue from this 1-27 to 2-23 defeat, the Dublin boss countered that he had no worries "at all" on that score.
"How many times have we seen a situation where people lose big leads?" he asked. "The wind today was a factor, they had momentum with a couple of points here and there, the goal was probably the turning point of the game. It brought them right back into the game. We came back and got a point but a couple of things at the end ... maybe our decision-making wasn't the best."
True, there were a couple of late occasions where the otherwise excellent Peter Kelly won crucial possessions but then, instead of clearing long, embarked on solo runs and rushed deliveries that ended up in turnover ball.
Other factors, though, were even bigger contributory factors in this painful reversal. We'll start with the wide count - 15-5 in favour of the losers, including six in the last quarter. Among the guilty parties were players such as David O'Callaghan, Mark Schutte (two) and Paul Ryan (two) who would all have been challenging for Man of the Match during Dublin's earlier dominance.
Still, for all Cork's wind-assisted transformation and a sense (late on) that Dublin were starting to physically flag, this game still appeared to be the latter's to lose when they led by seven just beyond the hour, courtesy of Liam Rushe's third point.
Cork needed the oxygen of a goal, and substitute Paudie O'Sullivan (teed up by Bill Cooper) duly delivered after 64 minutes. That cut the deficit to a goal; 'Dotsy' briefly, and brilliantly, extended it to four; and then Kelly's audacious flick to deny a goal chance for Anthony Spillane looked like it could prove a watershed moment.
Instead, in keeping with his metronomic mood all afternoon, Patrick Horgan nailed the resultant '65' to start a decisive burst of five unanswered points: Horgan landed the next two to bring his tally to a staggering 17, Conor Lehane blasted a possible goal chance over to bring Cork level on the stroke of 70 minutes (Dublin had led for the previous 68); and then with two minutes of stoppage time almost up, Séamus Harnedy crowned their comeback with the last point.
Cork will now face Waterford, surprise conquerors of Tipperary, in the Division One final on May 3. There are several compelling reasons why they, not Dublin, will be there: Horgan's sky-high conversion rate (he landed 17 out of 19 attempts, missing just one of his 15 placed ball efforts) is an obvious starting point; Aidan Walsh's thundering second half having switched from No 6 to the left flank of defence is another; while O'Sullivan's goal gave them pivotal momentum.
Yet we're talking about such fine margins, and Dublin had compelling claims for a free-in (shortly before Harnedy's winner) when Mark Schutte appeared to be fouled barely 50 yards from goal.
You didn't require any great interpretative skills to decipher Cunningham's viewpoint. "I've got to be careful," he began. "With the new rules you can't say much because there's obviously a danger of repercussions if you do … I better say nothing."
But was it a free? "It was a definite free," he clarified. "But there was other frees. This advantage rule, obviously it was the first time really we had a chance to look at it today. A player doesn't know that he has advantage if the referee is behind him with his hand up, and that kind of stuff."
That gripe aside, Cunningham had plenty of reasons to be cheerful about a first half that showcased so much that was good about Dublin hurling. Much was made about the 21 points leaked in one half to Cork back on March 7; here Dublin actually matched that first half tally to lead by 2-15 to 0-12.
It might have been even better. Mark Schutte capitalised on good work by Rushe to land a second minute goal, having left Damien Cahalane in his slipstream for the first of numerous times; and when O'Callaghan pirouetted through a porous Cork full-back line to land his own three-pointer, they already led by 2-9 to 0-3 with only a quarter of the game elapsed.
At that juncture, Conal Keaney was shading his fascinating duel with Lehane, Dublin's midfield was on top and all of their forwards (even the scoreless Ryan O'Dwyer) were having an impact.
Gradually, though, Cork established a foothold to create the template for their grandstand finish. "I thought our lads showed great character in the second half, it was a great comeback," enthused Jimmy Barry-Murphy, who rubbished the notion that his team may have inflicted serious damage on Dublin's morale.
"I don't see why it should," JBM ventured. "The night we played them in Croke Park was not a reflection of their ability. We knew we'd be playing a different team today.
"But, that said, they were way better than I thought they'd be. I thought Dublin were outstanding at times.
"Some of their scoring from out the field was absolutely brilliant; their ability to win the ball in the air was way better than us at times. So, I think we are lucky to win in the end," the Cork boss concluded.
Small comfort if you're a traumatised Dub.
Allianz NHL Div 1 Semi-Final Match File: Cork v Dublin
SCORERS - Cork: P Horgan 0-17 (12f, 2 '65s'), C Lehane 0-4, S Harnedy 0-3, P O'Sullivan 1-0, L O'Farrell, A Cadogan, A Walsh 0-1 each. Dublin: P Ryan 0-7 (4f), M Schutte, D O'Callaghan 1-3 each, L Rushe 0-3, C Keaney, J McCaffrey, D Treacy 0-2 each, B Quinn 0-1.
CORK: A Nash; S O'Neill, D Cahalane, W Kearney; L McLoughlin, A Walsh, S McDonnell; D Kearney, R O'Shea; C Lehane, S Harnedy, B Cooper; A Cadogan, L O'Farrell, P Horgan. Subs: P O'Sullivan for Cadogan (51), A Spillane for O'Farrell (63), B Lawton for D Kearney (67).
DUBLIN: G Maguire; C O'Callaghan, P Kelly, P Schutte; S Durkin, C Crummey, C Keaney; J McCaffrey, N McMorrow; R O'Dwyer, L Rushe, P Ryan; D O'Callaghan, M Schutte, D Treacy. Subs: B Quinn for McCaffrey (53), C Cronin for O'Dwyer (62), O O'Rorke for Treacy (67).
WIDES: Cork 5 (3+2); Dublin 15 (6+9)
YELLOW: Cork 0; Dublin 1 (McMorrow 56)
REF: J Owens (Wexford)
MAN OF THE MATCH: Patrick Horgan (Cork)