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Can Cork footballers put Páirc strife behind them?

January 24th, 2020 4:25 PM

By Denis Hurley

The Cork senior footballers are yet to enjoy a victory in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh since it opened in 2017 after redevelopment.

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THE Cork footballers will be hoping that it’s sixth time lucky when they take on Offaly at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday evening.

Since first playing at the new stadium two years ago, in the league opener against Tipperary, the Rebels have had five outings there but have won none of them. Tipp blitzed them on a 3-16 to 1-16 scoreline and Cavan also triumphed at the venue that year before Kerry claimed a 17-point Munster final victory.

Last year, Kildare in the first round of the league were the only spring visitors before the cut-up pitch was closed until the championship. While the 2019 Munster decider was a far closer affair, Cork still wound up on the wrong side of the scoreline, losing out by three points.

Cork midfielder Killian O’Hanlon was asked about the home record earlier this week and, while he’s aware of it, he and the team are trying not to become bogged down with it.

‘It’s something that has been mentioned in a few meetings alright,’ he says.

‘It’s kind of annoying more than anything. It’s not ideal, you’d like to get good results in front of your home crowd, but at the same time we’re not getting too drawn up on it either.’

Canice Kennedy, a sports psychologist based in Cork city, says that there shouldn’t be any hang-ups with regard to the venue in theory, but that doesn’t always work in practice.

‘Let’s look at the facts,’ he says, ‘across all sports in a range of countries, teams tend to perform better at home.

‘There might be a variety of reasons for that, such as what we’d call environmental comfort – you get to sleep in your own bed, you know the pitch, you have the same dressing room and you probably sit in the same spot.

‘With Páirc Uí Chaoimh, there is an issue of newness – even for the players who would have played in the old venue, this is still a new stadium and you must get used to it.

‘Even so, factually things are the same – you’re still at home and you have the backing of the home fans, the pitch is the same size. I haven’t been in the dressing rooms but I believe they are spectacular, a real elite environment, but at the end of the day the issues relating to the match are the same – the ball is the same shape and the goals are in the same place.

‘I think the media have a role to play in this in that there is pressure put on, the stadium cost so much and so on, players will feel that.

‘I’d fear that it’s something that affects younger players rather than older ones, who would probably have a better routine. I think management need to careful to avoid building the need to win up as an important factor as it might be counter-productive.’

Kennedy also makes the point that the ‘winless run’ can be dressed up as something worse than it actually is.

‘One of the problems, and no disrespect with this, is that the media say things that are irrelevant,’ he says.

‘I saw a thing saying that Stoke City hadn’t won at Old Trafford in more than 40 years and it was meaningless as the players involved hadn’t even been born back then and Stoke wouldn’t have played there every year.

‘If you look at the games Cork have played there, the two Kerry matches in the championship they probably weren’t expected to win anyway. In addition, very few of the team would have played at the old venue so it’s not like they’re bringing baggage with them.

‘Make no mistake, they’ll be saying they have to win, players are inclined to do that, but they shouldn’t let it become an issue.’

A win on Saturday would ease any talk and Kennedy is optimistic in that regard, albeit with a small concern regarding the pitch.

‘The feedback I’m getting is that things are good in the Cork camp,’ he says.

‘Training has gone well and Cork should beat Offaly. The team have ambitions to do well and that impacts in a positive way – if you expect to play well, you invariably do.

‘One factor which we can’t legislate for yet is how well the pitch was wintered. Obviously, it was a good thing that it was relaid but we won’t know until it gets through a winter. A poor pitch can be a levelling factor.’

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