ST Patrick’s Athletic got the defence of their Premier Division crown off to a start on Friday night with a hard-earned point in front of a packed Turner’s Cross.
A Christy Fagan header on 57 minutes cancelled out Garry Buckley’s first half goal to draw the Saints level, but the Rebel Army were forced to hold on as they finished the game with ten men following John Dunleavy’s second yellow card.
This had been one of the most eagerly anticipated games in Leeside in recent times with the idea of club legend John Caulfield taking charge catching the imagination. The first signs of a large crowd came half an hour before kick-off when the match programme sold out. It was then no surprise that the start of the match was delayed ten minutes to allow all 5,322 supporters to take their seats safely.
The tone was set only seconds of the first half when referee Padraigh Sutton blew his whistle for a foul by Greg Bolger on Billy Dennehy. It was to be the start of a trend as the Clare referee would dish out four yellow cards in the first half alone.
The games first real chance came after 12 minutes when Billy Dennehy received the ball deep on the left and crossed first time. Fellow debutant Anthony Elding flung himself at the ball but his diving header failed to trouble Brendan Clarke in the St Pats’ goal.
The visitors were to attack from the resulting goal kick and neat play from Conan Byrne and Christy Fagan carved the City defence open and only a heavy touch from Chris Forrester in the box saw the ball go out for a goal kick.
Republic of Ireland International Colin Healy came close for the home side on 17 minutes as he snatched a shot just wide and Cork City were beginning to settle.
The Rebel Army’s new number nine, Elding, was operating as a lone front man but his workrate was relentless and on 25 minutes he released Dennehy down the left but the Tralee native’s cross was just out of Garry Buckley’s reach as the Saints’ defence were scrambling back.
As the first half continued at a frantic pace there was a feeling among the home fans and the home bench that the man in the middle was awarding the champions the lion’s share of the decisions. However when Ken Oman fouled Elding at the edge of the box with five minutes to go in the first half, they were glad to accept the resulting free.
Up stepped Billy Dennehy whose free kick went out for a corner off the wall. Cork City only scored from two corners in the league last season, but they have clearly been working on their set pieces as Healy’s corner was flicked on by Gearóid Morrissey to the back post where his midfield partner Garry Buckley was on hand to head in the 41st minute opener.
Cheered on by the large home support, Cork City started the second half brightly with right back Brian Lenihan growing in confidence and breaking into the box only to overrun the ball.
St Patrick’s Athletic striker Christy Fagan had a shot from distance charged down by Healy on 50 minutes but he was to have a second bite of the cherry seven minutes later. Lee Lynch, only in the St Pats’ starting eleven after Killian Brennan withdrew during the warm-up, received the ball on the right hand touch line and sent a searching cross into the box, where Fagan was on hand to expertly lose his defender and pick his spot with a cool header past Mark McNulty.
If John Caulfield was to get off to a dream start in his dream job, he was going to have to do it the hard way as on 66 minutes he saw his captain John Dunleavy dismissed for a second yellow card – a late foul on Ger O’Brien.
From that point on and against a depleted side St Patrick’s Athletic passed the ball about like champions, but lacked the final penetration they needed. By this stage Mark O’Sullivan had replaced Elding as City’s lone front man, and he continued the thankless task of chasing everything down.
O’Sullivan had an opportunity to grab a winner on 75 minutes when Liam Kearney sent a cross in from the left, but the former Avondale striker and teammate Buckley got their signals mixed up and both went for the ball – thwarting each other in the process.
Where last season they might have succumbed and conceded late in the game, Caulfield’s men showed a steely determination to hang on and take a valuable point against one of the best sides in the country. Though they had numerical advantage for 24 minutes, Liam Buckley will also view this as a point gained rather than two lost as his side head back up the N8 to the news that last year’s runners up – Dundalk – had lost 4-1 to Drogheda United.
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Brian Lenihan, Dan Murray, Darren Dennehy, John Dunleavy ©; Liam Kearney, Gearóid Morrissey, Garry Buckley, Colin Healy, Billy Dennehy; Anthony Elding (Mark O’Sullivan 64).
Subs not used: Danny Murphy, John Kavanagh, Darren Murphy, Dave O’Leary, Rob Lehane, Matt Gledhill (GK).
Booked: Buckley (24), Dunleavy (25), G Morrissey (35), Kearney (43), B Dennehy (48).
Sent Off: Dunleavy (Second Yellow - 66).
St Patrick’s Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Ger O’Brien ©, Ken Oman, Kenny Browne, Ian Bermingham; Greg Bolger; Conan Byrne (Mark Quigley 79), Keith Fahey, Lee Lynch, Chris Forrester; Christy Fagan (Daryl Kavanagh 84).
Subs not used: Rene Gilmartin (GK), James Chambers, Derek Foran, Conor McCabe
Booked: Oman (84), Browne (88).
Referee: Padraigh Sutton.
Extratime Man of the Match: Brian Lenihan (Cork City).