00:00 Saturday 30 April 2011 

A marvellous Cork comeback or another Dublin meltdown ?

A GREAT victory or another lucky escape? A marvellous Cork comeback or another Dublin melt-down? The history books will show that Cork came from eight points down early in the second half to beat Dublin in the league final, to retain their league title for the first time ever in the history of Cork football. The records will show that Cork have now won four national titles in two years, three league titles and an All-Ireland, and it would be very difficult to argue with that.

Cork entered this final as outsiders against an unbeaten Dublin side and had to face the Dubs in their own back yard minus the services of top midfielder Aidan Walsh and the talented Colm O'Neill. In the first half they lost three of their starting fifteen and had subs on the pitch who were well short of experience at this level. Yet, they emerged champions after a comeback that had the stamp and confidence of champions written all over it.

Of course, this was a victory to savour. Beating Dublin in Croke Park is a relatively new experience for Cork footballers and those who believed that last year's semi-final escape was a fluke that wouldn't be repeated again, were left gasping for words to describe this repeat.

Of course the explanation for the victory was quite simple, not, as some experts pointed out, that Cork have a much better panel than Dublin and that the subs were much more effective. Rather was it a case of leaders on the pitch. Time was when Graham Canty was the Cork fulcrum and if anything happened to the Bantry man, then the team collapsed. Not so anymore. Canty has missed most of the last two seasons, the team has learned to cope and other leaders have emerged.

When the need was greatest on Sunday and Cork were in deep trouble, players like Shields, O'Leary, O'Neill, Kelly, Sheehan and O'Connor all stepped forward to be counted. No panic, they just took the game by the scruff of the neck, outscoring Dublin by 0-11 to 0-2 in the closing stages.

Contrast that to what happened when Brogan went off injured for Dublin, they simply collapsed in attack, lost all shape and confidence, and even their renowned wall defence disintegrated. Which clearly shows that Dublin are now where Cork were about three years ago, short of leaders and short on real confidence. If they follow Cork's path, they will eventually emerge as genuine challengers for the Sam Maguire, but they will take a while to get over this shattering defeat.

At present Cork are clearly superior to Dublin but the Dubs have a couple of things that Cork would love to add to their armoury. First is a guy named Bernard Brogan, without doubt the best forward in the country at the moment. He left Shields for dead twice and the green flag was waving twice. Would Cork have won had he not been injured?

Secondly, Dublin can score goals, averaging two per game, whereas Cork have lost the knack, or never really had it. Time was when Daniel Goulding was a class goal-scorer but he no longer even tries. Likewise Sheehan, Kelly, Goold, etc, are all point-scorers. We get the odd goal from Pearse O'Neill or Donncha O'Connor but nothing on a consistent basis.

Cork somehow managed to win this final, this whole league, without an established centre back on the team and very few have commented on it. When Canty is missing there is no recognised centre back available. John Miskella, just back from injury, wasn't the answer before his latest misfortune on Sunday and Noel O'Leary, despite all his great qualities, certainly isn't a centre back.

This Cork defence is struggling all season and they were lucky on Sunday that Jamie O'Sullivan picked this final to give his best-ever display in the red shirt. But can he repeat it on a regular basis? Shields is a great footballer but lacking in size for the vital full back position and after his shenanigans in the tunnel on Sunday Cork may have to face the Munster championship, and Kerry, without him.

Ray Carey's continued presence on the side is a mystery to me as he is almost anonymous in every outing. Doing little seems to keep him out of the selectors' eyes and safely on the side. Nobody is questioning his commitment and effort but his effectiveness leaves a great deal to be desired.

Paudie Kissane is another defender who is struggling for form and his lack of pace is seriously shown up at times. Noel O'Leary is a leader, full of heart and determination, but who will say that his best days are yet to come?

Young Denis O'Sullivan was brought on to good effect on Sunday and looks particularly good bursting forward out of defence but how many times did he struggle to get back when Dublin broke forward at pace? It is a big fault in his game but he is still one for the future.

For the first time in ages Cork struggled at midfield on Sunday without Aidan Walsh. He is vital to this Cork team at present but who will back him up? Alan O'Connor seems to be struggling for form and looks a tired player at present. Whole-hearted and totally brave, he needs a good break. The brief appearances of Nicholas Murphy are getting shorter and shorter but he is still the best impact sub on the bench. While the forwards, despite losing Goold and Kerrigan, who should never have been allowed to start on Sunday, scored a magnificent 21 points, the goal-scoring is the big problem. O'Connor only came into the game in the last quarter and Cork could have been fourteen points down by then, instead of eight. Where was Goulding in the last 20 minutes when the game was being won? He simply disappeared. While no player can keep going flat out for 70 minutes the erratic form of some of our key forwards is a problem. Fiachra Lynch worked hard when he came on and won a lot of ball but what is he going to score in any game?

Yes, this was a magnificent victory for Cork, built on great confidence, self-belief and never panic spirit and was certainly to be savoured, especially as league titles and victories over the Dubs are so scarce in Cork football history, but one would hope that the selectors will take a serious look at faults that have been shown up in this league campaign and do their very best to remedy them.

Again loyalty to players who have brought us to the top over the past five years will come into question, and a lot of them certainly came up trumps again on Sunday, but the decisions they come up with must be for the overall good of the team and the future of Cork football. There is no doubting that Cork football, despite the disappointment at U21 level, is in a healthy place right now but Kerry are enjoying a holiday in foreign climes right now and planning our downfall. The experts on RTÉ have tipped Kerry to win the All-Ireland. What a marvellous challenge they have now thrown down to Cork.

Are Kilmacabea ready to fulfil their destiny and capture their first SW junior A title this season? First-ever champions of West Cork way back in distant 1888, Kilmacabea have never succeeded in winning the elusive SW title. Each year they are tipped to make the breakthrough but when the crunch comes they trip up somehow. Without the services of their top player, Daniel O'Donovan, this season they were written off before the season started but on Saturday evening last in Dunmanway against St Mary's they proved that they were no one-man team.

A superb second-half comeback saw them winning by five clear points and they looked highly impressive. Yes, they have flattered to deceive in the past but fate deals a funny hand sometimes and maybe this will be the season when their determination and backs-to-the-wall approach will lead to the first glorious title. Nobody would begrudge them.

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