THEY WON’T BE discussed as contenders for the All-Ireland, but Cork quietly booked their place in the last 12 of the All-Ireland SFC on Saturday.
Longford lead by four points at the break as a badly malfunctioning Cork side went 29 first-half minutes without a single score, despite playing with the breeze.
But the half-time introductions of Colm O’Neill and Paddy Kelly turned the game on its head and the Rebels looked like a different outfit in the second-period.
Kelly’s influence was remarkable, given the fact he only had two minutes of competitive action in 2016 under his belt before the game. The three-time Munster medalist was only introduced as a 68th minute substitute against Limerick in the previous round of qualifiers, but he showed no signs of rust on Saturday.
“Paddy Kelly is just a super player lads,” Cork selector Eoin O’Neill gushed afterwards.
“Paddy has had a couple of injuries. He’s coming back to full fitness now, he saw a small bit of game time against Limerick.
“From that point of view, we’re very happy to get Paddy on the field and trying to keep him right because Paddy has a lot to offer, he’s a very good footballer. We’re delighted with him.
“We were calm at half-time. At the end of the day, we were only two scores down. We turned over a little bit too much we felt.
“We got Paddy on the field and he changed that around for us a little bit, and we just retained the ball a little bit better. It gave us a little more time on the ball and you saw the result of it then we started to express ourselves a little bit better. That was the difference really.”
The 30-year-old summed up his class with a beautifully disguised pass into Ian Maguire for Cork’s second goal on 61 minutes. Maguire’s finish effectively sealed their progression into Round 4.
“It was incredible. But this guy’s a genius. Thankfully he’s been coming back to a bit of fitness now and hopefully he can stay that way.”
Kelly, O’Neill and U21 star Sean Powter, who was introduced a minute after the restart, all served to transform Cork’s stagnant attack.
“There’s a lot of competition there. You see these young guys coming on. Sean Powter came on, Michael Hurley started today. These are good guys, they’re good players. They’re putting their hand up in training and that’s why they’re getting their reward here.”
The show rolls on. Now into the final round of qualifiers, Cork are showing the sort of grit and determination that has been absent from their displays all too often since the heady days of 2010.
“[We've had] two wins in a week now. At the end of the day, today was a bit of a different game for us, it was away from home, so it was a different challenge.
“Obviously we went into the bear pit a bit here in the second-half because we were four points down against the elements as well. But we just re-adjusted, it came right for us and we’re delighted.”
This morning’s qualifier draw will focus the minds further.
After surviving the bear pit in Pearse Park, Cork have two weeks before they face a wounded animal in their natural habitat — Donegal in Croke Park.
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