KIERAN McCARTHY feels Cork’s latest defeat confirms their standing as a Division 2 team
JOHN Hayes nailed it.
‘What was a bit of a gap is now a chasm,’ he tells The Southern Star this week, describing the gulf that exists between Cork and Kerry.
But that chasm doesn’t exist between just Cork and Kerry.
Dublin, Mayo, Galway, Donegal, Monaghan, Tyrone, they’re all above Cork in the pecking order.
But that’s not a surprise either.
Over the last few seasons Cork’s stock has plummeted and nose-dived, and Saturday night’s 17-point humbling to Kerry was confirmation of everything that has gone before in the past few seasons.
The gap was so distinct, it felt like a pivotal moment for both teams, more so for Cork, highlighting how far this team has fallen. Their worst fears were realised.
In the past two Division 2 campaigns Cork have won five of 14 games. Stretch it back to 2016 and relegation from Division 1, Cork have won eight of their last 21 league games, and in that have been home and away losses to Clare, and home defeats to Tipperary and Cavan.
This is the new reality.
This is where this Cork team is at right now. And expectations have to be altered to reflect the quality of the team. This team should only be judged on its performances and not what has gone before.
The manner of the loss to Kerry has rubber-stamped their decline into mediocrity. The Kingdom played better football, looked better conditioned, were faster, sharper, more skilful, better prepared; basically, they were superior to Cork in every facet of the game.
This Munster final mauling played out as the teams’ standing suggested – it was a Division 1 team with aspirations of winning an All-Ireland against a Division 2 team that finished third bottom of the table, closer to Division 3.
Again, this is the new reality.
Cork aren’t a top team anymore and haven’t been for a few seasons now, yet they’re still being judged on a higher standards. That’s why they get crucified when they lose to perceived lesser-quality teams when the reality is that Cork are of a similar quality. That’s why they are in Division 2. That’s their level.
Ronan McCarthy’s job is to point the ship in the right direction and sail this side closer to the leading fleet, and the win against Tipperary in Thurles got everyone’s hopes up. A false dawn, perhaps.
In the media room on Saturday night, after watching his side take one hell of a beating, he maintained that this isn’t a three-year plan, that he wants to get the maximum out of this group this year. That’s admirable. He has high standards, he wants to win, he wants this team to go as far as they can in the championship, like all supporters do, but McCarthy has a three-year term and should look to walk before he runs. This season should be marked as year one of a three-year plan, and that would help ease some of the expectations on the team and bring them in line to where Cork footballers are right now.
This is a work in progress and like any team in transition they were will be good days and bad days – the trimming dealt out by Kerry falls into the latter basket.
Cork’s response will tell a lot. Last year they regrouped to push Mayo and a similar feat is needed, otherwise this season, like its recent predecessors, will be another one of shortcomings and failure.
It’s a sign of the brittleness and acceptance of Cork’s current position that it’s the draw that will, people feel, determine how the next few weeks progress. If Cork get a favourable draw, they’ve a chance of squeezing into the Super 8s. If they draw, let’s say, Mayo or Monaghan, the outlook wouldn’t be as optimistic.
Again, that’s the reality we’re in right now. Cork will be underdogs against better teams, that’s not earth-shattering news, and it’s when the pressure is off they can surprise people. They beat Tipp in the Munster semi-final when they weren’t expected to, they ran Mayo close last year year when they weren’t expected to, maybe they can surprise us all again in just over a week’s time.
If Cork get through to the Super 8s, they will be in with Dublin, Donegal and Roscommon/winner of Round 3, and while some fans will shudder at the thought of what Dublin could potentially do to Cork, there has to be some short-term pain for the long-term gains.
To improve levels and standards Cork need to be competing against Division 1 teams on a consistent basis, not fumbling around in Division 2, so the exposure of the Super 8s would be a huge benefit.
They won’t be fancied to get there unless Monday’s Round 4 draw is kind. But that’s par for the course with most tier two, tier three teams these days, Cork being one of them.
This is the new reality we must all accept.