AS WELL as being a top American football coach – winning the first two Super Bowls and later having the trophy named after him – Vince Lombardi uttered quite a few sayings that are still as relevant as ever today.
After Cork’s McGrath Cup final victory over Limerick in Mallow, the relevant Lombardi phrase is, ‘Winning isn’t everything – it’s the only thing.’
A victory by six points by John Cleary’s men in what many consider an insignificant pre-season tournament is huge for this group. Winning makes everything easier. It brings confidence and a feelgood factor to training. Players will arrive at their next session with a spring in their step, raring for road. It reinforces in both players and the coaching teams minds that what they are doing is working and that progress and improvement is being made. From a supporter’s point of view, it builds interest and anticipation ahead of what should be an interesting Allianz Football League for the Cork footballers. Is promotion from Division 2 now a realistic prospect? I think so.
Short-term goals of beating Kerry, building a panel for the national league and winning the McGrath Cup have all been realised. It augurs well for the championship also and, granted, things could change a lot over the coming months, but having early-season victories over the two teams that stand in your path to another cut off of the Kingdom won’t do the players’ mentality any harm. Attention now turns to Meath this Sunday, under the stewardship of one of their most famous footballers, Colm O’Rourke, and you would expect that he would bring a bounce to the Royals.
In Mallow on Friday night, Cork started the game without the likes of Seán Meehan, Maurice Shanley and Ian Maguire, with the Cork management making six changes from the Clare game in total.
‘This year we have big competition for places on the team and on the panel. Off the top of my head, Conor Corbett, Cathail O’Mahony and Ian Maguire weren’t there, and with the way the game is now you have to have impetus off the bench. That’s what we are trying to build, that we have a good panel and we can play 20/21 every day, and that hopefully will make us a strong outfit,’ John Cleary explained afterwards.
Referee Brian Fleming had to delay the throw-in to give the crowd time to come in – now, the game was well-attended considering it was a Friday in January but bingo and a table quiz were as much to blame for traffic congestion in the Mallow complex as the match was.
Ray Dempsey, who had earlier been linked with the Mayo manager’s job which Kevin McStay got, has taken the reins over the Shannonsiders from long-serving manager Billy Lee and will certainly have learnt a lot about his troops from this trip south.
Nineteen scores to nine tells the story about this game. Cork dominated possession throughout, with Limerick getting themselves back into the game with a goal in each half when the game looked to be slipping away from them. From the throw-in, Seán Powter – named at centre-back – moved to centre-forward and Cillian O’Hanlon moved to midfield to partner the outstanding Colm O’Callaghan while Rory Maguire dropped back to man the number 6 slot.
As they have in their previous two outings this year, Cork played with great pace, drive and intensity again. To add to that, the foot-pass was used as part of their game on the counter, which brought the speed of Cork’s attacks up another notch. A prime example was in the 21st minute, when Brian O’Driscoll won a turnover and delivered a 50-yard kick pass which Brian Hurley marked and converted to put Cork 0-6 to 0-1 in front. Again, straight after half-time – turnover, two kicks for another Hurley point. He got seven in total, five from play and really led from the front as captain.
High-energy angled support play drew foul after foul from the Limerick rearguard, seven of which Sherlock converted. Goalkeeper Micheál Martin retained possession from 16 of his 20 restarts and varied between short-, mid- and long-range well.
He certainly has gained length but his long ones are still a bit hangy at times and could possibly be a little more driven. Daniel O’Mahony was again ultra-aggressive and abrasive at full-back, driving out too when the occasion presented.
He was replaced at half-time and we will hope it was only precautionary. Thomas Clancy was also replaced at the interval, having had a very solid first half in what we also hope was nothing too serious.
Limerick were ponderous, careless and error-ridden in the early stages. It took them 18 minutes to register their first score, which was followed by a dubious enough penalty and a long-range raker from Ian Corbett and, all of a sudden, the lead was down to one point, a margin that Cork took into half-time with them.
The good thing was the contraction of their advantage didn’t faze Cork. They stuck with the game plan and by the 45th minute it was 0-14 to 1-4. Limerick found oxygen again after Rory Maguire spilled a short kickout, the visitors scoring a goal to pull it back to three.
But another Brian O’Driscoll missile to John O’Rourke led to his first of two after coming on as a sub. Ruairí Deane, when introduced, ran hard and offloaded for a converted Sherlock free and had an assist to Hurley to finish the game off.
All in all, a first McGrath Cup since 2018, a confidence-builder and satisfactory preparation for the national league this weekend.