YOU don’t win the All-Ireland in February, and you don’t lose it either, but you can certainly lay the foundations for a September win in February.
Last season Cork footballers got off to a flyer in the league under new manager Brian Cuthbert, but we all know what happened in July.
This time Cork supporters are much more cautious and won’t get carried away by any win in the league. What the supporters want to see now is the makings of a team that will be highly competitive from July to September. Did we see that on Sunday and which manager, Cuthbert or Gavin, was happier going home?
Cork must take the positives out of this hard-fought win and build on them as the season progresses. The main objective for Cork on Sunday was to win their own home game. With four tough games coming up in the north, Cork must win their three games at home if they want to stay out of relegation trouble. One win on the road could put them into a play-off situation for league honours.
The must-win factor was intensified when it became clear that this was a second-tier Dublin team, with most of the important players missing. To be beaten by this make-shift Dublin side would have been demoralising for the Rebels, following on the defeat by Waterford. So, positive one, the game was won, the points are in the bag and it was mission accomplished.
Positive two was that Cork had to battle hard to pull this game out of the fire. At times, Dublin looked like putting the game beyond Cork but the Cork players battled hard and were the dominant side in the last quarter when it mattered most.
But had Ken O’Halloran not intercepted that Dublin pass in the second half, it could have been a different ending. Credit the Cork players with realising the importance of this win and giving their all to get it. If they can show this battling spirit in every game, then it’s a big corner-stone in place.
Positive three came from the displays of some of the newcomers to the team. With the departure of Aidan Walsh, there was a big question mark about the Cork midfield – how they would cope?
The display of young Ian Maguire on Sunday certainly gave hope that Cuthbert has found a replacement for Walsh. Certainly Maguire has rough edges that need to be refined and his use of the ball needs a lot of work. Likewise, he is still not fully developed physically but he showed huge promise with the U21s last season and took that promise into Sunday’s game. Much will rest on his young shoulders this season but he could be another budding Walsh.
We would have loved to see Damien Cahalane in the half-back line this season, especially to feed Brian Hurley, who plays his best with Cahalane outside him, but, even though Cahalane won’t be there, the performance of Conor Dorman at wing back was a revelation, especially in an attacking role.
One swallow doesn’t make a summer but the Bishopstown man has definitely staked a solid claim for inclusion later in the summer.
Positive four was the performance of Jamie O’Sullivan who showed that he is learning and improving with each season and if he can get a run free from injury, he, too, will be in the reckoning for a championship place in defence.
Positive five came in the efforts of the team to play a massed defence, bringing the wing forwards deep into defence when necessary and crowding the player in possession.
It was far from perfect and Dublin kicked some easy points but it’s the right way to go if we are to compete with the likes of the Kerry and Dublin forwards down the road. Facing Kerry with a man-on-man approach in July, if we reach the final, certainly is not the way to go.
Positive six came with the patience of the team as they built attacking moves from the back. A couple of the break-away points were top class and, while we abhor the modern short-passing game, Cuthbert has no option but to join the trend. Dragging this Cork team into the modern era is his biggest challenge.
So, what do Cork have to work on following this display? The team definitely needs more physical presence and the size of the Mayo team against Kerry emphasises that. Cork were like terrier at times on Sunday, biting away at Dublin, but a couple of strong bulldogs are needed, as in Counihan’s time, as a good big one will always beat a good little one in a tough fight.
While Cork’s patient build-up on Sunday was admirable at times, it often isolated the best two scoring forwards on the team, Hurley and O’Neill. Cuthbert will have to devise a system, or systems, that will utilise their attacking talents much more but will also have to cater for the day when both Hurley and O’Neill will be marked out of the game.
Overall, this was another promising start to the season by Cork. We have been down this league road with Cork in the past, only to collapse in July, but this time there seems to be more maturity in general as to what the league means, and what needs to be got from it, among management, players and supporters.
Slán go Fóill