The reignng FAI Cup champions came away from the first defence of their crown at the Carlisle Grounds with a satisfying 1-0 victory in what was a relatively even encounter with few clear-cut chances.
Kieran Sadlier’s first goal for the club was the difference as Bray Wanderers’ cup adventure came to an end at the first attempt.
The game began with a sense of humour. In response to the strange club statement provided by Bray Wanderers a few weeks ago, the Cork travelling support showed their knowledge of current affairs and threatened the home supporters with a chant ‘you’re getting nuked in the morning!’.
This reporter doubts the likelihood of those words being backed up with real fire and fury, but on the pitch the real battle took place.
It was the home side who started the brighter on a bright and overcast evening in Co. Wicklow. Bray, playing a very direct style of football, bombarded the Cork box with plenty of crosses before Karl Moore, playing at left back, floated the ball into the box where Ryan Brennan was waiting and able to jump above his marker and flick a header towards goal. Unfortunately it narrowly trickled wide.
Cork slowly came into the game and it was through their left winger Sadlier where they had most success. Midway through the half he broke down the left and beat the tracking Sullivan for pace.
He then played a lovely low cross into the box for Sheppard to finish. Unfortunately his effort was slightly to the right of the far post when all the away end thought it was in.
Minutes later Sheppard was again involved in another chance for the visitors. He played a one-two with Beattie to get in behind Kenna. Working his way into the box and from an angle he hit a shot on the half volley across the goal, but wide to the left.
In the middle Garry Buckley began to grow into the game as his positive forward running gave Cork another outlet from their direct style on the night. He got the ball in midfield through cleverly shifting his body to the right and opening up space for himself. He then played a great through ball into the path of Sheppard, who let it run across him to his right before hitting a first time shot straight into the arms of Steacy.
Bray had two decent chances before half time. Firstly Mark Salmon’s cross was met well by Ryan Brennan’s leap in the box and his header looked like it was going to loop over and beat McNulty in goal only for it to land on the top of the net.
Then, just before the half time whistle, a long ball forward was headed clear by Ryan Delaney but fell to the feet of Ryan Brennan on the right edge of the box. He struck a sweet shot towards the far side of the goal, but it whizzed just beyond the post.
The second half began with Cork playing the better football with both Buckley and Sadlier standing out and within ten minutes, Cork had a golden opportunity to take the lead.
Shane Griffin was played into the box only to be impeded by the tracking Greene who brought him down and referee Robert Harvey promptly awarded Cork a penalty. Sadlier stepped up and hit it low to his left, but Lee Steacy was equal to the effort and dived to his right to brilliantly turn the ball around the post.
Two minutes later however and Sadlier made amends. He was given the ball in the box by Shane Griffin after an attacking throw-in deep in Bray’s half and from an angle he rifled a shot into the top right corner to open his account for Cork. This time, Steacy had no chance to save Bray and Cork had the lead.
Both teams made changes after the goal and it was Cork’s tactical change, which saw Campion introduced for Beattie and Sheppard moved to the right wing, that proved to be most beneficial. Bray began to push further up looking for an equaliser and left themselves more open at the back and it was left back Griffin who best exploited this situation.
Griffin marauded from left back across the pitch up to the right wing in a counter-attack and won a free kick. He then stepped over it and crossed the ball into the box where it was cleared by Kenna but only as far as the edge of the box.
The ball was headed back in, Steacy fumbled a punch and it landed at Campion’s feet. He struck it hard towards goal but Kenna, showing his defensive instincts and experience, got back and was able to clear it off the line and out for a corner.
The last twenty minutes saw Cork sitting deeper and more defensive and this allowed Bray to come back into the game, but they weren’t able to create any meaningful chances.
In fact, it was Cork who had the best chance when Sadlier again got in behind the defence on the left and crossed low into the box where Karl Moore was forced to put it behind for a corner to deny Sheppard a chance to score.
With only minutes remaining a silly push on substitute McCabe gave him the opportunity to strike the ball from 30 yards out. His brilliant effort was heading for the top left hand corner only for McNulty to get across and with the aid of a bounce, he held onto the ball before any Bray attackers could try and nip in with a rebound.
Bray pushed players forward for the remaining minutes but to no effect as Cork held on with a professional performance for a 1-0 victory as they pursue a potential double and more importantly as far as the FAI Cup is concerned, they attempt to retain the trophy they won last year.
Bray Wanderers: Lee Steacy; Keith Buckley, Tim Clancy, Conor Kenna, Karl Moore; Ryan Brennan, Darragh Noone (Gary McCabe 64), Mark Salmon (Kevin Lynch 84), John Sullivan, Jason Marks (Ger Pender 60); Aaron Greene.
Subs not used: Ryan Coulter, Jake Ellis, Anthony Flood, Hugh Douglas.
Booked: Tim Clancy (78).
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Conor McCormack, Ryan Delaney, Robbie Williams (Conor McCarthy 81), Shane Griffin; Steven Beattie (Achille Campion 61), Greg Bolger, Gearoid Morrissey, Garry Buckley, Kieran Sadlier; Karl Sheppard.
Subs not used: Jimmy Keohane, Steven Dooley, David Coffey, Conor Ellis, Alan Smith.
Booked: Greg Bolger (75), Achille Campion (90), Conor McCormack (90+4).
Referee: Robert Harvey.
Attendance: 531 (official).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Kieran Sadlier (Cork City).