BY JOHNNY CAROLAN
WHILE Cork are unlikely to face the same defensive blanket they encountered against Limerick, manager Ronan McCarthy doesn’t necessarily expect an open, free-flowing game in Sunday’s Munster SFC final in Killarney (4pm).
Cork eventually overcame the Shannonsiders by 1-16 to 0-11, having been 1-6 to 0-4 in front at half-time, but it was a game where patience was required as they faced massed defensive ranks. However, just because Kerry are likely to attack Cork more than Limerick did, it doesn’t follow that attacking chances will be plentiful.
‘I think that the top teams, Kerry, Dublin, while they play nice football up front, they never leave their defence open or exposed,’ McCarthy says.
‘They are quite happy to bring 15 players back into their own half at times, if they need to. There is kind of a narrative out there that all the top teams play total football all of the time and that they leave themselves open at the back, but it’s quite the opposite, actually.
‘It could become a very cagey game, I don't know. Sometimes games take on a life all of their own. You can go back to the game in 2018, if you go back to the first 15 or 20 minutes of the game, there were goals flying in everywhere. It was very helter-skelter, which probably didn't suit us on the day.
‘What I would say is, any top team isn't going to leave themselves open at the back unduly.’
Cork are seeking a first win in Killarney since 1995, but they do at least have the consolation of having ended an eight-year wait for any championship victory over the Kingdom last November. Unfortunately for Cork, that semi-final triumph wasn’t followed by victory in the provincial decider against Tipperary. While defeat stung, McCarthy hopes that lessons have been learned.
‘You look back at the (Tipp) game and the thing that stood out to me was, and I have said this to the players, it was 0-14 to 0-12 with 12 minutes to go,’ he says. ‘If you add in injury time, we had plenty of time. We probably lacked a small bit of composure, but to be fair to us we hadn't found ourselves in that situation too often.
‘The thing there is that if you find yourself in a similar situation in Killarney, whether you are winning or losing by two or three points, if you stick to what you know best, go back to your basics, keep pushing forward, but don't get panicked and don't get ruffled.
‘The thing about the Limerick performance last week was that even when they got back to four points and they got back to four points a couple of times, I thought we actually controlled it quite well, we reset, we won out kickout, went down the pitch, and tacked on a score. They are the small things we have dealt with from last year.’
That loss to Tipperary is why McCarthy doesn’t place too much store in the idea that Kerry will be driven by the need for revenge for last year.
‘They don’t have a monopoly on hurt,’ he says.
‘We were really disappointed not to win Munster last year and there’s a huge motivation within this team to be successful – obviously a provincial championship is part of that.
‘All teams have different motivations and hurt and everything else and that’s for them to look after from their side.
‘We’ve a highly motivated side and I go right back to when we were relegated in ’19 to Division 3 – we ended up playing Dublin, the All-Ireland champions, in Croke Park in the first round of the Super 8s.
‘What was very apparent then was the players absolutely relished the challenge of going up there and playing them. They’re the types of games that they want to be involved in, against the top teams in big matches, and it’s nothing different again on Sunday for the game against Kerry.
‘A massive occasion, a fantastic team we’re playing against – that’s what we’re all involved for, to test ourselves against the best teams, and I think that we do have the quality to challenge all the best teams.
‘Our Achilles heel a small bit possibly has been our inconsistency over maybe my first two and a half years in charge, but we’ve won 12 of our last 14 competitive matches. I think that that element of our inconsistency is going – it it’s not gone, it’s nearly gone.
‘I’ve always felt, right back to the Tyrone and Dublin games in the Super 8s in 2019, we played fantastic football that day against Dublin – yeah, they pulled away at the end but we were well in it for 62, 63 minutes and played with real quality against another outstanding team.
‘This is where we want to be, so it’s going to be the same next year, whoever’s standing here – you’re going to be up against these teams. They’re top-quality sides, they’re a huge challenge, but that’s why we’re here.’