00:00 Saturday 06 August 2011  Written by Tom Lyons

No excuses as Cork side just ran out of steam

IT WAS hard to feel disappointed

after Cork's comprehensive

defeat against Mayo on Sunday.

Cork were not just beaten, they

were hammered by a hungrier,

more psyched-up, more physical

Mayo side and just had no reserves

in the tank on the day to

cope with it.

We made our way to Croke

Park early to see how Kerry were

shaping up and how we might

get the edge over them in the

semi-final. Defeat against Mayo

never entered our heads as we

watched the Kerry players going

through the motions, looking

rusty and struggling to get their

game going. Their forwards in

particular were far from the sextet

that had hammered us in the

first half in Killarney. The Munster

champions looked far from

invincible and as we settled in to

watch the Rebels do away with

the Mayo challenge, we were

happy enough with the prospect

of meeting the Kingdom again in

the semi-final.

We should have been worried

by the absence of three of our

best forwards, especially the injury

to Goulding, but the team

had coped fine against Down and

the subs looked sufficient for the

Mayo game. The panel would be

tested but what had Mayo shown

all season that would bother us?

We should have been worried

when we found ourselves surrounded

by Kerry and Mayo supporters

with Cork fans definitely

in a minority. Was there even

5,000 Rebel supporters present

on the day? Why are Cork football

fans so fickle and surely, as

All-Ireland champions, the team

deserves much better than this?

Apart from the opening ten minutes,

the small Cork contingent

was totally outshouted by the

Mayo supporters and their team

definitely got an edge from that

support.

We should have been worried

when we saw the published Cork

team. Nicholas Murphy in at full

forward and Donncha O'Connor

taken out of his best position on

the edge of the square, where he

has been flying all season. I hate

when selectors announce one

team, knowing very well that the

team that will line out is different.

What silly games to be playing

at this level and that is exactly

what the Cork mentors did,

bringing in Fiachra Lynch and

not Murphy.

Childish approach

The rest of their actions on the

day matched that childish approach

to picking the team, especially

the decision to replace

Noel O'Leary shortly after the

break when he was one of the

few Cork players to physically

stand up to the Mayo men, yellow

card or not.

Also, their inability to do anything

with Michael Shields who

was being roasted at full back,

was one of the main causes of the

defeat. When Canty was brought

on, ineffectually as a wing back,

why wasn't he used as a sweeper

in front of the full back line to cut

out the fast ball to the inside forwards?

We should have been worried

when, after the opening ten minutes

and a 1-3 to 0-1 lead for

Cork, we began to struggle badly

at midfield.

Domination

Cork's game is founded on

midfield domination but Cork

got hammered there on Sunday.

Alan O'Connor, so good up to

now, was completely out of the

game and Aidan Walsh was a peripheral

figure, his attempts at

fielding high balls with one hand

in the air in direct contrast to his

brilliant fielding last season. His

rising star has definitely waned

this season. Not only did Mayo

win the fielding battle, they also

won most of the breaking ball

and most of the dirty ball around

midfield.

We should have been worried

when Cork began to revert to

their short-passing game, back

and forth across the back line

and then back to the goalie.

Where was the direct football of

the Down game? Has this Cork

team learned anything about the

type of football that suits them

best? No direct ball to Donncha

O'Connor, who disappeared after

a promising start and a leg injury,

and two corner forwards

who were drifting too far out the

pitch, meant that Cork posed no

threat to the score-keeper in the

second quarter and half forwards

Fintan Gould and, especially,

the disappointing Paddy

Kelly, were contributing nothing

to the cause.

We should have been worried

when the six-point gap was reduced

to two by half-time but we

still believed that Cork, with the

slight breeze, would turn it on in

the second half by raising their

physical challenge and tearing

into the opposition. It never happened

as Cork went from bad to

worse, with little guidance from

the sideline, and not a single forward

scoring in the second period.

Even Miskella's point, our

only score in the second half, had

an element of luck about it.

We should really have been

worried when Gould missed that

great goal chance which would

have put Cork into the lead in the

last quarter and probably have

propelled them to a good finish.

Really worried

We should have been really

worried when Mayo, not noted

as a physical team, began to win

all the tough, dirty ball and began

to dominate in the tackles. It

was hard to believe that this particular

Cork team, renowned for

its strength and size, could be so

beaten in the physical stakes.

The Cork forwards were hunted

by two or three Mayo players at a

time and closed down, losing

possession or giving a bad pass.

Cork never came to grips with

this hard-hitting, committed,

physical approach by Mayo and

that was hard to stomach for us

supporters.

We were, finally, really worried

and in despair in the closing

stages when Cork lost all sense of

calm and composure and reverted

to ridiculous long balls into a

crowded Mayo goalmouth as

well as lashing out in frustration.

This was not how champions

were supposed to go down.

Where was the heart, the

courage, the nerves of steel that

winning a championship is supposed

to bring? To say that Cork

reverted to type, including years

of losing, is not pleasant but is

true.

So, what happened to Cork on

a bad, bad day? We felt nothing

on the way out of the stadium,

not meeting a single Cork supporter

we knew, so thorough and

hopeless was this beating. This

Cork team hit the wall on Sunday.

They had been trying for

five years to win the title and

when it came last year, it was, in

truth, just in time. We had seen

signs of it all season. Against

Dublin in the league final, it took

a late comeback and a Dublin

collapse to hand the title to Cork.

Against Kerry in the Munster final,

it took half the game for the

team to build up a head of steam.

On Sunday last the fire was out

and cold water does not produce

steam. This Cork team is played

out.

Three league titles in a row

and an All-Ireland title over the

past two years has left the tank

empty. Throw in the injuries to

the three key forwards and when

they tried to put the accelerator

down against Mayo, nothing

happened. Credit Mayo with

playing well, but they are no

world-beaters and a fit, fresh, full

Cork side would have won this

one with something to spare.

Rebuild the hunger

While the chance of back-toback

titles is gone and it's going

to be a quiet August/September,

this team needs to rebuild its

hunger and appetite again. It

happened to Kerry last season

and they have bounced back.

Cork can do likewise next season.

They now have seven

months before the new league

starts, a league that doesn't have

to be won.

More important for the selectors

will be the necessity to replace

the battle-worn warriors

who just haven't anything left to

give. They have taken Cork to the

summit of Gaelic football, now

new players will have to keep

them there. Quirke, Kissane,

Miskella, O'Leary, Murphy,

Spillane, Lynch and Canty will all

have to do some soul-searching

during the winter about their future.

The selectors, whoever

they will be, will have to decide if

a few of the players on duty last

Sunday, and who have received

plenty chances, are quite good

enough at this top level.

The return of the three injured

forwards next season, if all

goes well, should cure the forward

ills we saw on Sunday while

O'Connor and Walsh are young

enough for years to come at midfield,

but Walsh has a lot to learn

and he might just decide to make

hurling his priority in the future.

Cork's biggest problems next

season could all be in defence

and the new management team

will have introduce the blanket

or swarm defence that all top

teams are now adopting. Cork

were good at this a few seasons

back but have abandoned it for

man to man marking, which is

not working because the work

rate isn't high enough. It certainly

wasn't on Sunday last when

the hunger and appetite were

missing.

While this may be the end of

the road for this particular Cork

team, it is not the end of the road

for this bunch of players. There

is no reason why most of them

can't be back in 2012 with their

appetite renewed and a new

steely determination replacing

the lethargy and lack of physicality

we saw on Sunday. Just as one

swallow never made a summer,

once down is no disaster but

what a pity that we won't get a

crack at Kerry in the semi-final

in a few weeks time. That, and

not defeat to a Mayo side who

badly needed a big win, was the

worst pill to swallow on Sunday

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