MISTAKES can only be categorised as mistakes if you don’t learn from them.
When you learn from them, they become lessons which lead to incremental improvement. John Cleary and his management group and players obviously learnt a huge amount from the opening Allianz Football League Division 2 defeat to Meath to turn in a big performance away to Kildare last Sunday.
Against Meath, Cork looked porous at the back, lacked directness, were ponderous in their play and lacked a spread of score getters. Against Kildare, there were no goals conceded – or points, for that matter, for 28 minutes. Kildare scored seven points in total. The Rebels racked up 2-14 away from home with seven different players getting on the scoresheet. They used the long ball into space to great effect and outworked a Kildare outfit who had put it up to Dublin in their first match.
This result now makes the upcoming Dublin game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh a very attractive fixture for those involved and the wider Cork football following.
I’m struggling to remember the last time Cork defeated a team ranked above them away from home so convincingly. It must have been extremely satisfying for all involved to see the normally raucous and passionate Kildare following streaming out of the ground before the final whistle.
Coming into this game, Kildare manager Glenn Ryan must have been confident. They had outscored Dublin by six points to two in the last 20 minutes. They looked to be closing the gap to Dublin from a strength and conditioning point of view.
Like Meath, they looked very athletic in the middle third. Their inside line of Jack Robinson, Darragh Kirwan and Jimmy Hyland accounted for nine points out of their 13 against the Dubs. Their full-back line had a real no-nonsense look to them and would have been looking forward to the challenges posed by the Cork inside line.
On top of all that, Kildare have had the better of Cork in the past three league meetings and Ryan had yet to lose a league game as manager at home. That included the likes of Kerry, Monaghan and Dublin all coming to Newbridge last year with none of them getting the better of the home team. It’s easy to see why they were favourites with the bookies.
‘Run at these boys!’ must have been the words ringing in the Kildare players ears as they left the dressing room. Cork, expecting this and being away from home, set up far tighter from the outset and set the trap defensively to play tellingly and directly on the counter-attack. Tommy Walsh and Luke Fahy replaced Seán Meehan and Kevin O’Donovan from the outset in defence as Cork closed up shop. The opening ten minutes were cagey from both sides, but from then on Cork used the foot pass to great effect to open the Kildare rearguard.
Sherlock found a far sharper looking Brian Hurley with a diagonal ball to turn and score. Cork hunted in packs in defence. The moment a Kildare player took on a Cork defender, he was surrounded by red jerseys. One such dispossession, followed by a long ball leading to a Hurley mark and score, put Cork two up. A high press on the following Kildare kickout led to the Castlehaven man putting Seán Powter through to punch to the net and Cork were on the road.
They quietened the huge Kildare following early as the Lilywhites struggled to get to the pitch of the game. Cork had 1-6 on the board before Jimmy Hyland eventually raised a white flag seven minutes before half-time. One could say Kildare were below-par on the day but Cork's workrate was phenomenal, registering 17 turnovers to Kildare’s seven in the first half alone.
Cork went in nine points up at half-time, to what must have been one of the easiest interval speeches John Cleary has ever given – same again lads, keep it going, there is bound to be a kick in these boys.
There was a noticeable improvement by Kildare after the short whistle but that flittered away when Alex Beirne was red-carded on 50 minutes.
That allowed the luxury of sitting Powter deep to consolidate a defensive effort that kept Kildare to one converted free over the 70 minutes. The margin was still eight points following the dismissal before substitute Cathail O’Mahony clipped the crossbar with a shot only to find the net later to put this game firmly to bed.
So, a clean sheet, highly disciplined and organised, more variety and direction and 2-10 from play. A welcome two-week break, particularly for the UCC contingent who were again in Sigerson action in the week gone by. The Dubs will come to town in numbers on February 19th (3.45pm throw-in) in what is a very attractive fixture that will draw the biggest crowd the footballers have had for a league game in quite a while.