Dublin were oddly unconvincing in their win over Cork in their Super 8s opener at Croke Park, if that's possible in a 13-point victory.
On first glance it’s a completely lop-sided scoreline and any day a team scores five goals in an All-Ireland quarter-final, not to mention the 18 points, it’s a sign that something at least is going right.
But for much of the second half against Division 3 opposition the gap between the teams hovered between three and five points.
The Rebels repeatedly found a way through to Stephen Cluxton’s goal and it wasn’t until a three-goal burst in the eight minutes coming up to the end of normal time that this one was really put to sleep.
Cork, for their part, proved in front of just 30,214 paying punters, that they certainly deserve their spot in the last eight despite being by far the lowest ranked team left in the competition.
The crowd was disappointing, no doubt not helped by the fact that the Rebels' better-supported hurlers are in GAA HQ less than 24 hours later for an All-Ireland quarter-final of their own against age-old rivals Kilkenny.
Whilst the result was never really in doubt, Dubs manager Jim Gavin still has food for thought before his team’s next game against Roscommon at 'neutral’ Croke Park next Saturday.
The five in-a-row chasing All-Ireland champions took most of the sting out of this one with the last attack of the first half, showing all of the experience that makes them a truly great team.
Sensing that there were just second left Jack McCaffrey signalled that he was going to boom in a free from the ’65’, something the Dubs would never normally do. Con O’Callaghan got up and broke it, Cormac Costello gathered and fed Michael Darragh Macauley to palm to the net.
This left six between the sides at the break in a game that threatened to break out into a real contest in the first nine minutes.
Cork hurtled out of the traps and were 0-04 to 0-00 up thanks to points from Kevin O’Driscoll, Seán White, Paul Kerrigan and Ruairí Deane from play.
At this stage the Rebels were sauntering through the middle of the Dublin defence and it wasn’t taking anything particularly revolutionary to unlock the door.
It was interesting to watch Cork’s floater in attack Paul Kerrigan trying to tag himself onto Dublin sweeper Cian O’Sullivan, which he did with some success, forcing the Boys in Blue to switch their spare man in defence.
This caused the disruption in normal service, though it didn’t take long to think they away through it.
They thought they had a penalty after four minutes when David Gough spread his arms as O’Callaghan went down under pressure, though on consultation with his umpires he chose to throw the ball up instead.
On ten minutes McCaffrey slipped in the square to howls from the restive natives on the Hill, who weren’t used to seeing their team behind. It wasn’t a penalty and the flying wing-back didn’t need any charity - he got off his knees and stabbed in the first goal of the game.
Still, it was a quarter of-an-hour in before Dublin were level, the equaliser coming in a ten minute period when the momentum in Cork’s charge completely stalled. They were still punching holes but were now shooting under more pressure, hoisting three wides in this spell.
There was quality at both ends, Philly McMahon showing serious skills for a corner-back when he dummied on his right and shot a point off his left. Brian Hurley did the same for Cork, but they couldn’t get the bullish forward on the ball enough.
With only two points between the teams he did get a sight of the target from close range, but his shot went straight against keeper Stephen Cluxton’s legs when Luke Connolly was free and bawling for the pass on the other side of the goal.
Costello was busy, but he missed a relatively straightforward free and miscued a ’45’ with the fit-again Dean Rock watching from the substitutes bench alongside James McCarty, who is also back from an injury that was feared could be season-ending after he hobbled out of the Leinster final win over Meath.
Rock was on for Costello after 44 minutes and was quickly chipping in with scores from play and off the ground.
Before this though Cork grabbed the lifeline that was thrown to them when O’Sullivan barged over Ian Maguire in the square following great work from Kerrigan. Luke Connolly slotted home the penalty into the Hill end calmly.
From here they were able to keep pace with the Dubs until they finally ran out of steam with less than ten minutes remaining.
First Niall Scully raised the green flag, O’Callaghan laying the foundations, then Ciarán Kilkenny followed after Mark White’s terribly ill-judged short kick-out went straight to Paddy Small.
Then on the stroke of 70 minutes Brian Fenton loped through the centre unmolested and battered a shot into the net.
Dublin: Stephen Cluxton; David Byrne, Michael Fitzsimons, Philip McMahon (0-02); Jack McCaffrey (1-00), Cian O'Sullivan, John Small (0-01); Brian Fenton (1-01), Michael Darragh Macauley (1-00); Niall Scully (1-00), Cormac Costello (0-01), Brian Howard; Ciarán Kilkenny (1-02), Paul Mannion (0-02), Con O’Callaghan (0-04).
Subs: Dean Rock (0-05, 3f, 1 ’45') for Costello 44 mins; Paddy Small for O’Callaghan 64 mins; Jonny Cooper for O’Sullivan 67 mins; Kevin McManamon for Mannion 67 mins; Eoin Murchan for McCaffrey 69 mins; James McCarthy for Fenton 71 mins.
Cork: Mark White; James Loughrey, Thomas Clancy; Kevin Flahive, Liam O’Donovan (0-01), Tomás Clancy, Mattie Taylor (0-01); Ian Maguire, Kevin O’Driscoll (0-01); Seán White (0-01), Ruairí Deane (0-01); Paul Kerrigan (0-03) Mark Collins (0-01, 1f), Brian Hurley (0-03, 2f), Luke Connolly (1-03, 1-00 pen, 1 ’45').
Subs: Michael Hurley (0-02) for Kerrigan 55 mins; Kevin O’Donovan for Loughrey 55 mins; Ronan O’Toole for White 62 mins; Stephen Sherlock for Connolly 64 mins; Cian Kiely for O’Donovan 64 mins; John O’Rourke for Maguire 68 mins.
Referee: David Gough (Meath)