Cork ended Offaly’s Championship campaign for the second year running as they came through a testing All-Ireland Senior Championship qualifier on a 1-26 to 2-16 scoreline at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Aided by the wind, Offaly were the better side early on and a scrappy goal from Colin Egan gave them a platform that their play merited.
But Cork edged their way into a 1-12 to 1-10 half-time lead with ever-accurate captain Pat Horgan scoring 1-08 of that haul.
Although Joe Bergin and Shane Dooley, who added the Faithful County’s second goal, kept them in the hunt, Cork’s stronger bench proved influential when it mattered most.
Rebels manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy will be thankful for the stern examination that Offaly gave his young team, with Dooley’s late goal making it a four-point game.
But Cian McCarthy and substitutes Stephen Moylan and Cathal Naughton landed three closing points for the victors, who will face either Wexford or Limerick in the third phase of the qualifiers.
This was Cork’s fourth qualifier clash with Offaly in six seasons, and last year’s meeting was a close run affair with Horgan pointing them to a 2-17 to 2-16 victory.
Willing his players to bounce back from their Munster Championship exit, Barry-Murphy made minimal changes with Christopher Joyce debuting at centre back and Cian McCarthy added to the attack.
Goalkeeper Eoin Kelly from Lusmagh made his Championship bow for Offaly, while there were also first Championship starts for defender Conor Hernon and midfielder Sean Ryan.
After early misses from McCarthy and Lorcán McLoughlin, Offaly swept downfield to grab the opening score through Joe Bergin who dovetailed with Dooley in a two-man full-forward line.
Pat Horgan and Shane Dooley swapped frees as both sides struggled to make early headway, although a stylish catch and point from Pa Cronin briefly lifted the standard.
But Offaly’s tactic of driving balls in on top of their reworked front line, with Brian Carroll playing a deeper role, soon paid off. The Cork defence failed to clear their lines and although Anthony Nash stood up well to save an initial shot, Colin Egan managed to scramble home the game’s first goal.
Cian McCarthy inspired the Rebels’ response, creating space on the right for a well-taken point and being fouled for Horgan’s second pointed free.
Offaly though were able to maintain their goal lead with Dooley landing a score from play and Brendan Murphy and newcomer Ryan following suit, both from long range.
Horgan rattled off two points for Cork, including one from play, but Offaly were being afforded too much room around centre-field and a short puck-out from Kelly set up Derek Morkan for a point.
The Faithful almost had a second goal midway through the half, Bergin working Dooley through for a shot from a tight angle that Nash deflected wide.
The resulting ‘65’ was converted by Dooley, making it 1-07 to 0-06, however Cork suddenly stamped their authority on proceedings with Horgan taking centre stage.
The Cork captain was on the end of some tremendous interplay involving Cronin and Paudie O’Sullivan to smash home an encouraging goal. The talismanic Horgan then got away from his marker Hernon to square things up at 1-07 apiece.
Cork went on a spurt approaching the half hour mark, with goalkeeper Nash and Horgan adding frees and McLoughlin firing over from 20 metres out, moving them 1-10 to 1-07 ahead.
Yet Offaly, with the wind advantage, showed their mettle with some determined play before the break. Carroll, Morkan and Bergin all chipped in with points, reducing the margin to two. Cork finished their first half tally with two more points from Horgan, the second coming from play after Cronin sped through on a solo run.
Dooley picked off a terrific brace of points to get Offaly back on terms - 1-12 apiece - early in the second half, with the leveller a peach of a score from under the stand.
Ollie Baker’s charges nipped ahead thanks to Bergin before Conor Lehane replied for the hosts, who coughed up a goal-scoring chance when McCarthy took too many steps.
The Faithful fought on impressively and even survived the concession of a penalty for a foul on Cork substitute Luke O’Farrell. Horgan’s low shot was blocked by Offaly captain David Kenny on the line and flicked behind for a ‘65. McCarthy converted the placed ball to move Cork ahead at 1-14 to 1-13 and net minder Nash then cracked over his second monster free.
O’Farrell teed up Lehane for Cork’s fourth point on the trot and young full-forward O’Sullivan was narrowly wide as he bulldozed through on goal.
The wind-backed McCarthy then added a fine point from distance, opening up a 1-17 to 1-13 lead as Cork really turned the screw. Horgan sniffed around for a decisive goal but Offaly did enough to force a ’65, which McCarthy converted.
The nerves remained among the 10,136 spectators as Offaly gritted their teeth and sparked a comeback. Successive points from substitute Derek Molloy and Conor Mahon reduced the margin to three.
The heat was suddenly back on Barry-Murphy’s side as Dooley sent over a free, before Cork substitute Daniel Kearney drilled over a deserved point.
Lehane tagged on his third from play with six minutes remaining, and Offaly fell 1-21 to 1-16 behind after Cork’s latest substitute Stephen Moylan split the posts.
The visitors were visibly tiring at this stage and Cork used their bench effectively; the fresh legs earning two more pointed frees from Horgan.
Offaly rallied with a late goal from Dooley, who squeezed home a close range free, and O’Farrell was thwarted as he tried to hit back with Cork’s second goal.
Points proved enough for them nonetheless; McCarthy and substitutes Moylan and Naughton clipping over three more to send Cork into the next round.
Cork: P Horgan 1-10 (0-07f), C McCarthy 0-05 (0-03 ‘65, 0-01f), C Lehane 0-03, A Nash (0-02f), S Moylan 0-02 each, P Cronin, L McLoughlin, D Kearney, C Naughton 0-01 each.
Offaly: S Dooley 1-06 (1-03f, 0-01 '65), C Egan 1-00, J Bergin 0-03, D Morkan 0-02, B Murphy, S Ryan, B Carroll, D Molloy, C Mahon 0-01 each.
Cork: Anthony Nash; Shane O'Neill, Brian Murphy, Conor O'Sullivan; Tom Kenny, Christopher Joyce, William Egan; Darren Sweetnam, Lorcan McLoughlin; Conor Lehane, Cian McCarthy, Pa Cronin; Jamie Coughlan, Paudie O'Sullivan, Pat Horgan (capt).
Subs used: Daniel Kearney for Sweetnam (40 mins), Luke O’Farrell for Coughlan (43), Cathal Naughton for McLoughlin (53), Stephen Moylan for P O’Sullivan (64), Niall McCarthy for Cronin (69).
Offaly: Eoin Kelly; Conor Hernon, David Kenny (capt), James Rigney; Derek Morkan, Rory Hanniffy, Diarmuid Horan; Kevin Brady, Sean Ryan; Colin Egan, Conor Mahon, Brendan Murphy; Shane Dooley, Joe Bergin, Brian Carroll.
Subs used: David Franks for Hernon (23 mins), Cathal Parlon for Carroll (48), Derek Molloy for Murphy (57), Dermot Mooney for Brady (63), Thomas Carroll for Egan (66).
Referee: Michael Wadding (Waterford).