THERE WERE 486 souls present to witness the first step on the road.
Cork’s 2013 ambitions will be high in a year where they will seek to recover from their All-Ireland semi-final exit to Donegal last August.
Yet their opening moves on that route to recovery were in a low-key setting yesterday afternoon.
A small crowd huddled into the stand at Cork IT’s sports grounds in Bishopstown to witness the students defeated by Conor Counihan’s side by seven points.
What did this McGrath Cup opener achieve? The nuts and bolts of it were that a winning outcome propelled Cork towards a quarter-final meeting with Tipperary next Sunday.
Given Counihan’s traditional focus on victories in the early months of the season – as evidenced by a trophy haul of two McGrath Cups and four league titles in his five years in charge to date – their 1-15 to 0-11 success was hardly surprising.
On a wider scale, this game served as the first part of the annual audition process as Cork trawl the county’s player base for new talent. Only six players who featured at some stage during that Croke Park loss to Donegal were in from the start yesterday.
Familiar faces like Noel O’Leary, Donncha O’Connor and Paudie Kissane joined by the final whistle but there was plenty absent.
Daniel Goulding, Fintan Goold, Ciaran Sheehan and Patrick Kelly only arrived back over the weekend from a holiday in Cuba. Sheehan is tied to CIT in this competition anyway while Goulding and Kelly are both nursing injuries.
Ray Carey and Eoin Cadogan are both in the midst of travel stints in Australia. Work commitments have scrubbed the Dublin-based Eoin Cotter from the equation this year.
Of the old stagers, Graham Canty is easing his way back to full fitness, Nicholas Murphy has retired and Alan Quirke is domiciled in the Lebannon with the Army until April.
Thus there was a void for newcomers to fill yesterday. Damien Cahalane was rewarded for some swashbuckling form for Castlehaven at club level at the tail end of 2012 and got a run at corner-back yesterday.
The 20 year-old did his job competently and if the feeling persists that he is more suited to a role further out the pitch, his location may be more a reflection of where Cork’s need could be greatest this year.
Cahalane is a player in demand with the U21 footballers and Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s hurlers eager to recruit his services as well. On the issue of access to the youngster, Conor Counihan was non-committal after yesterday’s game. Long-term it remains to be seen where he will be pitched.
Elsewhere Cork gave game time to John McLoughlin, a brother of county hurler Lorcan, at corner-back, 2007 All-Ireland U21 winning captain Andrew O’Sullivan at midfield and Douglas player Odhran Mulrooney at wing-forward.
Castletownbere player O’Sullivan put in a typically honest and determined shift while Mulrooney, a former schools rugby player of note with Christian Brothers College in Cork, was robust and aggressive. They’ll get another go.
Cork’s Andrew O’Sullivan in action in the 2011 All-Ireland junior final. Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan
As the year unfolds, Counihan will be eager to work with players busy with college commitments at present. He got a close look at CIT attacker Donal Óg Hodnett, who captained Cork to the Munster U21 football title last year, yesterday.
In the O’Byrne Cup yesterday, the Castlehaven pair of Mark Collins (Dublin IT) and Brian Hurley (Carlow IT) were in action. Next week John O’Rourke and Tomas Clancy, U21 mainstays of the last couple of years, will be on show with UL in the McGrath Cup.
It’s all speculative at this juncture and the hard question as to whether Cork have enhanced their tactical nous, an issue that has haunted them after that loss to Donegal, will not be properly answered until later in the summer.
Yesterday was not illuminating in that regard. There was evidence of January rust in passes going astray and balls being fumbled.
The mixture of groans and laughs from the crowd late on when Donncha O’Connor inadvertently blocked a shot destined for the net by teammate Alan O’Connor, hinted at the relaxed approach everyone was taking.
Cork are predictably still getting up to speed. After being substituted, the trio of Conor O’Driscoll, Denis O’Sullivan and James Fitzpatrick retreated to one of CIT’s back pitch to pound the ground in a running session.
They were joined by DCU student Aidan Walsh, currently in limbo as regards his January eligibility, who will have another hearing during the week into that episode according to Counihan afterwards.
A 2013 opening day win then for Cork but everyone is still feeling their way into a new season.
At home to Tipperary next Sunday provides the next assignment. Another stage in the learning process.
Scorers for Cork: Donncha O’Connor 1-1 (0-1f), Colm O’Neill 0-4 (0-2f, 0-1 ’45), Paul Kerrigan, Pearse O’Neill, Odhran Mulrooney 0-2 each, Andrew O’Sullivan, Conor O’Driscoll, Sean Kiely, Liam Shorten 0-1 each.
Scorers for Cork IT: Donal Óg Hodnett 0-4 (0-3f), Brian O’Regan 0-2, Jerry O’Connor (0-1f), Colin Lyons, Donough Leahy, Michael Vaughan, Anthony Sweeney (0-1f) 0-1 each.
CORK: David Lordan (Ballincollig); John McLoughlin (Kanturk), Michael Shields (St Finbarr’s), Damien Cahalane (Castlehaven); Denis O’Sullivan (Ballinascarthy), Conor O’Driscoll (Ilen Rovers), Sean Kiely (Macroom); Pearse O’Neill (Aghada), Andrew O’Sullivan (Castletownbere); James Fitzpatrick (Carbery Rangers), Paul Kerrigan (Nemo Rangers), Odhran Mulrooney (Douglas); Colm O’Neill (Ballyclough), Alan O’Connor (St Colum’s), Liam Shorten (Ballingeary).
Subs: Noel O’Leary (Cill Na Martra) for O’Driscoll (ht), Donncha O’Connor (Ballydesmond) for Fitzpatrick (ht), Paudie Kissane (Clyda Rovers) for D O’Sullivan, (40), Ken O’Halloran (Bishopstown) for Lordan (51), Chris O’Donovan (Valley Rovers) for A O’Sullivan (57).
CORK IT: Andrew O’Donoghue (Aghada, Cork); Eoin Byrne (Bishopstown, Cork), Mark Griffin (St Michael’s-Foilmore, Kerry), Damien O’Sullivan (Spa, Kerry); Colin Lyons (St Finbarr’s, Cork), Brendan O’Sullivan (Valentia, Kerry) John Cronin (Lisgoold, Cork); Stephen O’Donoghue (Ballincollig, Cork), Peter Daly (St Mary’s, Cork); Jerry O’Connor (Boherbue, Cork), Brian O’Regan (Nemo Rangers, Cork), Donough Leahy (Arravale Rovers, Tipperary); Pa Joy (Laune Rangers, Kerry), Donal Óg Hodnett (O’Donovan Rossa, Cork), Denis Crowley (Bishopstown, Cork).
Subs: James Walsh (Knocknagoshel, Kerry) for S O’Donoghue (43), Pa Kilkenny (Glenbeigh-Glencar, Kerry) for Cronin (48), Michael Vaughan (Millstreet, Cork) for J O’Connor (48); Sean Finn (Glanworth, Cork) for E Byrne (58), Anthony Sweeney (Listry, Kerry) for D Crowley (58).