After Cork’s most recent defeat to Kerry at Páirc Uí Rinn two weeks ago, as is tradition, like most other avid GAA supporters I settled in on Sunday evening to watch the Sunday Game.
I was interested to see what the football gurus would have to say. What I wasn’t expecting was Seán Cavanagh’s general attack.
I suppose these boys have to earn their money to keep their spot and being controversial is the easiest way to achieve that. Assuming a Pat Spillane-like role with his famous “puke football” comment about Tyrone back in the noughties, Cavanagh’s opening of ‘‘I don’t see where Cork are going at the minute,’’ was harsh if you had been following Cork football’s trials and tribulations over the previous five months.
No doubt the early season stuff was hard to watch as we looked planless and rudderless. Throw in an injury list as long as your arm and a change of manager mid-season with these two majors being the tip of the iceberg overall.
Progress was seen in the latter stages of the league, backbone was shown by management and players during the venue debacle and a template for future performances in this years championship was achieved in Páirc Uí Rinn.
Needless to say the players were disappointed leaving Páirc Uí Rinn, but in the intervening time they have probably come to the conclusion that if they were better in a few areas that game could have gone right to the wire.
We are still in the championship, awaiting the draw for the qualifiers which are due to kick off on the weekend of June 4th/5th. Football is a funny old game and the spark to get a squad on a run can come unexpectedly.
In the new format, following the league there are only two teams ranked lower than Cork. They are Louth and Limerick who were promoted from Division 3. There will be eight teams in the first round of the qualifiers with the winners going on to meet the losing provincial finalists in Round 2.
The provincial winners will then enter at the quarter final stage to play the winners of Round 2.
The draw for Round 1 is full of heavy hitters, some with All-Ireland winning ambitions like Mayo and reigning champions Tyrone. The next best hope would be the likes of Armagh or Monaghan with the ideal match up for this Cork team at this stage coming in the form of Louth, Clare or to a lesser extent Meath.
This Cork team needs a championship win. Fingers and toes will be crossed in the hope of a favourable draw.
Inconsistency has been the Achilles heel of Cork football teams over the bones of a decade now, often performing above expectations against the better teams and coming a cropper against what traditionally would have been considered weaker opposition both in league and championship. That is why it is so important that Cork build on the performance for fifty minutes against Kerry.
It was very encouraging to see the likes of All-Ireland U-20 winners Maurice Shanley, Rory Maguire, Colm O’Callaghan and Cathail O’Mahony assuming leadership roles in the Munster semi-final. These lads are the future and equally good and better performances will be demanded of them the next day.
Ian Maguire’s hand injury will have had a month to improve and hopefully we can see the abrasive and aggressive Sean Powter in a fit enough state then to complete the full game. It will be interesting to see what the management’s angles will be in the quest for better performance.
The obvious one that has been well-documented is the kickout woes. I’d expect Maguire and O’Callaghan to continue their partnership at midfield but we need another target at 10 or/and 12.
John O’Rourke and Daniel Dineen worked hard the last day but they are very similar players. Both are not a direct option for a long kickout at this level which then limits where the goalkeeper can go. Brian Hartnett or Brian Hayes could offer something different aerially on one of the flanks. More targets, better movement and more variety would make life easier for the goalkeeper whoever that is going to be.
Cork need more players contributing to the score line from play. Brian Hurley wouldn’t have been happy after the last day. He was tightly marked by Jason Foley with extra defenders coming to help whenever the Castlehaven man found himself in possession in the scoring zone.
There is more in him, we need him hitting the target more regularly as he is still a serious threat. But at different stages of the game it would add another string to Cork’s bow if you had a sizeable wing forward drifting to the edge of the square on occasion to compliment the skills of Sherlock and O’Mahony through a more direct approach.
Cork were aggressive in defence the last day which was great to see but it also led to the concession of too many scorable frees. Now the referee had a part to play in some cases but finding that balance of when to hit hard and clean and when to stand up and pressurise and crowd will also be something John Cleary and his coaches will be working on.
Maybe our footballers will be in the championship longer than our hurlers. Who could have predicted that last January?