BY DENIS HURLEY
WHILE the three-point loss reflected much progress since a 17-point reversal at the same stage in 2018, Cork manager Ronan McCarthy wasn’t taking solace in a moral victory.
He had said beforehand that a one-point defeat wouldn’t leave him feeling any better than last year and, while he acknowledged no shortage of honesty of effort from his players, the bottom line was that Cork were beaten.
‘If I say that that’s fine, I’m saying that it’s almost okay to lose the game,’ he said.
‘We came up believing we would win the game and have fallen short.
‘You lose a game – I’ll gave an example, the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Kerry, which Kerry lost, even though they were beaten, they played with real honour.
‘I felt our lads played with real honour tonight and spirit, but we have to regroup, learn from our mistakes, look forward to another big challenge. I’m sure we’re going to get another bumper team in the qualifiers but I’m looking forward to that.
‘You’re coming into a game where they’re going for seven in a row, they won by 17 points last year, they’re a fine side. Some of the commentary, you’d have to argue was fair enough.
‘We countered it by saying that I felt there was real quality in the team. I come away from any game, win or lose, I’m interested is the spirit there. By Christ, it was there tonight.’
In that regard, was it a missed opportunity?
‘I don’t know, really,’ he said, ‘you give any top team a seven-point start you are going to put yourself on the back foot.
‘Obviously, really pleased with the response and the way the team went after the game. Kerry were on 14 men for the last ten minutes, now they had a cushion of a lead of three or four points at that stage. So look, hard to know what to make of it really. We came to win the game, that was our objective, we didn’t and we are thoroughly disappointed.’
Much comment in the wake of the game centred on the free-count which was heavily in Kerry’s favour, as well as a disputed point which was awarded to the visitors despite the umpires being unsure. However, McCarthy wasn’t going to be drawn on the performance of Wicklow referee Anthony Nolan.
‘It is a fair question to ask,’ he said, ‘but I’m better off not answering that question.’
For Cork, the task is to re-focus and prepare for next Monday’s All-Ireland SFC qualifier round 4 draw, with a win there putting them into a Super 8s group alongside Dublin and Roscommon, the latter visiting Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
McCarthy wasn’t taking Saturday night’s performance as a guarantee of a good qualifier display, but he certainly felt that the curve was pointing upwards.
‘I don’t know is the answer,’ he said.
‘What I would say is I don’t look at individual games, I look at the period since we played Tipperary [in the league].
‘We’ve played ten matches, against Kerry, Galway, Dublin, Donegal and so on, and we’ve been consistent and competitive in all the games. The key thing in that is whoever we get in the draw, we feel we’ll have the capability of beating them.
‘But we’ll have to gather ourselves again, get back in Monday for recovery, be back in Tuesday. We will have regrets, that’s part of the learning process but if we learn from that, I think we’ll be a handful for anyone, whoever we get in the qualifiers.’