THE INSIDE TRACK: When Cork threw off shackles, they were rewarded

April 1st, 2023 6:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

Cork manager John Cleary.

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CORK got a footballing lesson from Derry for 55 minutes of last Sunday’s encounter at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Derry are one of the top teams in the country and are a good bit further down the line in terms of development. Cork, basically, are in year one of John Cleary’s project. A lot of progress has been made over the course of this year’s McGrath Cup and Allianz Football League campaigns but you don’t go from being in a Division 2 relegation battle and being beaten by Kerry and Dublin by ten and 12 points last year to being contenders for an All-Ireland in that short a space of time.

Derry manager Rory Gallagher has been developing his team and style of play for the last three years, Cork are in the process. After being eight points down heading into the last quarter, Cork threw off the shackles, the game plan went out the window, there was impact from the bench and there was more pace and direction to the attack. Now, it could be said that Derry switched off mentally and let Cork back in, but it also looked like Derry tired, such is the pace and intensity required to implement their style of play.

Cork scored the next six points in nine minutes and, with three in it and all the way into the seventh minute of added time, substitute Cian Kiely floated a last-ditch ball to the small square, which Ruairi Deane contested, resulting in Ian Maguire bundling the ball to the net for a 1-14 apiece draw. A morale-booster for the Rebels but tear-your-hair-out time for Rory – if you remember, they faded last year against Galway also in the All-Ireland semi-final.

There were a lot of absorbing aspects to this game for anyone interested in the tactical and coaching side of the game. Watching both warm-ups to begin with, Derry really got up to match-pace whereas Cork’s was a little more placid. Derry’s set-up for the throw-in also caught my attention – all six Derry forwards lined up on the 45 as if they were chasing the rebound from a penalty kick. As you would expect, all six Cork backs were on their shoulders battling for position.

Derry’s Ethan Doherty in action against Cork’s Colm O’Callaghan. (Photo: INPHO/Ken Sutton)


The ref throws it up. Paul Cassidy holds off Maguire while Brendan Rodgers thunders through from a run up to punch the ball to his hounds released from the traps by the whistle.

Twice Derry set up a seven-man wall in front of Cork’s free-takers. Now, it wasn’t quite soccer style as there was at least elbow space between them. No arm-waving or anything, just purely psychological. In the first half, Steven Sherlock faced it from his own side from about 30 metres and missed. In the second half, Conor Corbett missed a handy one after getting the same treatment. My question would be, if there are seven in the wall, surely there must be free Cork bodies?

As I said earlier, Derry play a really high-energy game and are not afraid to push numbers forward when in possession and that includes the goalkeeper. Twice in the first half, Cork turned them over high up the pitch and they looked extremely vulnerable. The keeper was out beyond the 45 and was seen to be sprinting back to his own line as Colm O’Callaghan and Killian O’Hanlon both had chances to lob him.

Why didn’t they have a go? Are the players tied into a game plan that ingenuity goes out the window? Imagine the impact on Derry if the keeper had been caught out. They might not have been so brave after that.

Cork’s play was too slow and methodical for three quarters of this game. As an example, midway through the first half Cork patiently moved the ball from sideline to sideline, probing for a gap in a well-organised Oak Leaf rearguard. Seven times in total the ball went from side to side before a Cork player spilled the ball and it was turned over. What was interesting was what was happening off the ball.

At different times during this play, and on many other occasions during the first 55 minutes, a Cork player in a central position and in possession was seen to put up his arm up, Brian Fenton-style. This was the call for three or four and, even on one occasion five, Cork players to line up on the sideline, spaced out from the 65 in. I presume the thinking was to draw that number of Derry players that wide and expose the middle but Derry never bought it. My worry also was, with that many players wide on both sides, if the ball was turned over it was probably going to end up in the back of the net.

During this process which had no end-product, Cork had one man inside around the small square. First it was Sherlock, then Colm O’Callaghan and in turn Killian O’Hanlon. They were one on one, but not one Cork player looked to the back post. If those big guys were drifting in there, it must have been in the play book. Again, an example of the fear of trying something different.

On the other side of the pitch, Derry gave a great example on a couple of occasions on breaking down the packed defence. Ethan Doherty’s point in the first half comes to mind. For this attack, they had five players inside the Cork 13m line. Obviously, these five players required five markers creating far more space around the scoring zone. Cork had their sweeper, who was nullified all day through this type of tactic and hard running involving loops and cutbacks. Off one such loop, Doherty broke through the line to an open D to rifle over a great point into the wind.

Colm O’Callaghan had another impressive outing, even though he was battling with the brilliant Brendan Rodgers. He, along with Ruairí Deane and the bench, drove the cause in a great showing of character late on. Corbett and Deane added far more physicality inside. Mark Cronin started to kick the ball and the scores started to flow. Cork got to within two but then three errors followed, one after the other. John O’Rourke had a Hail Mary effort from distance into the breeze. Killian O’Hanlon scuffed a sideline kick and there was Corbett’s aforementioned free. The goal came but I couldn’t understand then why Cork conceded the final Derry kick out. There was a chance there to win it.

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