Cork's Mark Collins and Dublin's Johnny Cooper. ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

5 talking points after Cork and Dublin's Croke Park battle last night

Victory went to Cork by 1-17 to 0-18 last night.

1. Rare defeat for Dublin under Jim Gavin’s watch

Since assuming the Dublin senior reins for the start of the 2013 season, Jim Gavin has developed an excellent managerial record. His side played 15 games between league and championship last year and only suffered one defeat – by a point against Tyrone last March in the regulation phase of the league.

With two wins under his belt from their opening two assignments this spring, Gavin could reflect on a run of just one reversal in 17 matches. Last night he saw his team slip up for only the second time under his watch.

It’s a rare defeat but they had only eight of last year’s All-Ireland winning team in action last night. They will still challenge strongly for a league semi-final place and Gavin will be looking for a response at home to Kildare next Saturday night.

2. Cork gain confidence after first trip on the road

Cork’s bright start to the league had been founded on successes in familiar environs. They saw off Westmeath, the favorites for relegation, and Kildare, minus an experienced core, at home in Páirc Uí Rinn. Last night was their first trip on the road with the country’s benchmark in the opposition corner. A challenge in every respect then.

Managing to succeed should help them gain great confidence. For their older players, it helps reverse a trend where Dublin were bossing these encounters after recording convincing wins in the league and championship in 2013 against Cork. Their younger players have suffered against Dublin too – some in the 2011 All-Ireland minor quarter-final, others in the 2012 All-Ireland U21 semi-final. They will be buoyed by last night’s result.

Cork players at the end of the game ©INPHO / Donall Farmer ©INPHO / Donall Farmer / Donall Farmer

3. March league football begins with a shootout

Last August’s All-Ireland hurling semi-final between Cork and Dublin was defined by the extraordinary score taking in the opening period. 27 scores were registered in the first-half with Cork ahead 0-15 to 1-11 in the break. Last night the county’s footballers squared off and engaged in a remarkable shootout that yielded 24 scores in the first-half.

They were tied at 0-8 apiece after just 18 minutes and by the break Cork lead 1-11 to 0-12. The rate of scoring was phenomenal considering their 2013 league and championshhip games both yielded 16 scores apiece in the first-half.

What can the increase be attributed to? Two teams with notions of expansive football going toe-to-toe. Some quality attackers on both sides. And perhaps the black card is really starting to make a difference in Gaelic football. It’s only the league and we suspect defensive systems will be more refined if these two cross paths in the summer. But last night’s showing was refreshing to see.

4. Corner-forwards have cause to cheer

Cormac Costello and John Hayes are at different stages in their careers. Yet they shared a similar sense of satisfaction after this game that they did well in their attempts to ensure they will be in the mix for the summer.

Costello is Dublin’s latest young talent, still eligible for the U21 ranks in 2015. He scored 0-3 from play in the opening half and raised another white flag after the break. He was withdrawn in the 52nd minute but his performance maintained a good spring to date and he looks like being a live contender for Young Footballer of the Year in 2014.

Hayes was 29 in early January and here he was starting his first league game for Cork in over three years. He’s been absent from the panel since March 2011 and only got a brief runout at the end of the Kildare game.

From the off, he was sharp and inventive in picking off three points from play in the first 12 minutes of the match. Then he showed his poachers instincts for a goal, just like he did against Kerry in January’s McGrath Cup final, before the break. Like Costello, Hayes was substituted in the 52nd minute but he had also made his mark.

John Hayes with Jonny Cooper ©INPHO / Donall Farmer ©INPHO / Donall Farmer / Donall Farmer

5. Colm O’Neill provides the highlight of the night

Having torn a cruciate ligament three times already in his career, 25 year-old Colm O’Neill deserves some fortune at this stage. On St Patrick’s weekend last year, he suffered the serious knee injury for the third time and just under a year later, he trotted back into action during the second-half last night.

Witnessing him make his return was great and to see flashes of his devastating attacking play in sweeping over two points was the highlight of the night. It was fitting that he floated over the last point of the game and had cause to celebrate after trying times.

Both Brian Cuthbert and Jim Gavin referenced their delight at seeing him back in action in their post-match comments. The sentiments were shared by the GAA community with a huge amount of goodwill flowing in O’Neill’s direction.

Colm O’Neill back in action to help Cork defeat Dublin at Croke Park

As it happened: Cork v Dublin, Division 1 football league

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