Goals either side of half time from Mark O’Sullivan and Billy Dennehy proved decisive for Cork City before Liam Kearney put the icing on the cake for John Caulfield’s men against Athlone Town on Friday night. For Mick Cooke’s side it was yet another defeat as their quest for their first points of the season goes on.
The home side were dealt a blow before the game as captain Aidan Collins was withdrawn just before kick-off with a shoulder injury that was initially picked up in the game against Shamrock Rovers. Conor McMahon took his place at centre half.
It may have been top versus bottom, but to an outsider it was hard to tell which was which as the game got off to a slow start with neither side managing to grab the game by the scruff of the neck.
The first half chance came on ten minutes when Cork City were awarded a free kick which Billy Dennehy whipped in towards the far side of the box where his brother Darren flashed a header wide of the Athlone goal.
Athlone went on the attack after 22 minutes and when Sean Brennan found space in the box it seemed certain he would test the Cork City keeper, however young full back Brian Lenihan got across to expertly usher Brennan away from goal and out of the box.
Shortly after that Athlone won a corner kick but Derek Prendergast headed over the Cork bar. This was a passage of play that seemed to repeat itself again and again throughout the game, as Athlone failed to make their set pieces count.
The opening goal of the game came after 41 minutes and it came against the run of play after prolonged Athlone possession. Cork winger Billy Dennehy received the ball out on the right hand side and whipped the ball in with his favoured left foot. His low cross bounced as it entered the six yard box and Mark O’Sullivan was on hand to nip in between defender and keeper to claim his first league goal for Cork City.
O’Sullivan’s goal was a sucker-punch for Mick Cooke’s Athlone as they had spent most of the first forty-five minutes in Cork City’s half but had failed to make their dominance tell. If that wasn’t bad enough, however, things would get worse after the interval.
Introduced as a half time substitute, Liam Kearney made an instant impact for Cork as he broke down the left hand side and into the Athlone box on 47 minutes. As Paul Skinner came off his line to close him down, the ‘Conna Maradonna’ cooly knocked the ball past him where Billy Dennehy was on hand to graciously tap the ball in to an empty net.
After the second goal, the game became a bit more stretched and Cork City began to control the game – Gearoid Morrissey in particular getting his foot on the ball and making some nice passes. It was the introduction of Kearney to City’s left flank and the switch of Billy Dennehy to the right hand side that seemed to make the real difference though, as both wingers got forward at every opportunity.
On 65 minutes Athlone fashioned a chance but Philly Gorman headed the ball straight at Mark McNulty in the Cork City goal.
The visitors almost made it three on 70 minutes when Brian Lenihan launched an over the top ball from his right back berth onto the head of O’Sullivan. City’s lone striker then outmuscled the Athlone defender and advanced on goal, only to see his left footed shot go over the bar.
The game ended as a contest five minutes later when another long ball came from deep in the Cork City half and Kearney was on it in a flash. The winger bore down on the Athlone goal and, cool as you like, dispatched a left footed effort into the bottom corner of the goal.
Athlone, to their credit, continued to battle, but all they could muster were tame efforts straight at Mark McNulty which he dealt with comfortably.
As Mick Cooke alluded to after the match, the scoreline may suggest a mauling but it doesn’t really do justice the the home side as they did edge the game for long periods. However, they were tame in front of goal, in stark contrast to Cork City’s clinical finishing.
The win for John Caulfield’s men sees them joint top of the league with 10 points from four games and sets them up for a top of the table clash with Shamrock Rovers at Turner’s Cross next Friday. Mick Cooke on the other hand must dust his men down and prepare them for a tough visit to Hunky Dorys Park where he will come up against his former team Drogheda United.
Athlone Town: Paul Skinner; Kealon Dillon, Conor McMahon, Derek Prendergast, Sean Byrne (Ian Sweeney 53); Graham Rusk (Declan Brennan 81), James O’Brien, Alan Byrne (c), Sean Brennan, Jason Marks (Mark Hughes 81); Philly Gorman.
Subs not used: Craig Sexton (GK), Aidan Collins, , Niall Scullion, Barry Clancy.
Booked: S Byrne (18). A Byrne (58).
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Brian Lenihan, Dan Murray, Darren Dennehy, John Dunleavy (c); John Kavanagh (Liam Kearney 46), Gearóid Morrissey, Garry Buckley (Dave O’Leary 66), Colin Healy, Billy Dennehy; Mark O’Sullivan (Ian Turner 80).
Subs not used: Matt Gledhill (GK), Andy O'Connell, Kevin Mulcahy, Rob Lehane.
Booked: Healy (85).
Referee: Robert Harvey.
Attendance: 690 (official figure given - but there were ticket scanning issues and the actual attendance is estimated to have been 1,000)
Extratime Man of the Match: Liam Kearney (Cork City) – his half time introduction changed the dynamic of the game as his teammates raised their game to match his performance.