Misfiring Cork’s lack of clinical edge and go-to forward is costing them
By Kieran McCarthy
THE Cork footballers aren’t just crying out for a hero, they’re crying out for a marquee forward to point them in the right direction.
By Peadar Healy’s own admission after last Sunday’s Munster final defeat to Kerry, the Rebels are ‘not a high scoring team’ and so they need goals to stand any chance of inching back towards respectability.
But this season, between ten Division 2 league and championship matches, Cork have scored six goals – and they haven’t scored two goals in a league or championship match in almost a year, since they defeated Longford 2-9 to 1-6 in the All-Ireland qualifiers last July.
Goals win games but they also turn games.
If ever a team needed to capitalise on a big moment in a match, it’s this confidence-sapped Cork team but through their own wastefulness they continually shoot themselves in the foot, pardon the pun.
Last Sunday against Kerry, Ian Maguire bundled a great chance in the 12th minute when he was straight through, Tomás Clancy fired wide in the second half, Paul Kerrigan’s effort was tipped away by the Kerry ’keeper and Luke Connolly blazed over late on. Four huge goal chances, yet not one green flag.
In the opening round of the Munster SFC against Waterford both Paul Kerrigan and Colm O’Neill missed great goal chances at the start of the second half, both set-up by Peter Kelleher, and the same two, Kerrigan and O’Neill, also passed up goal opportunities against Tipperary, their second narrow win in a row.
‘We missed 19 goal chances in the league this season,’ Healy explained last Sunday.
‘When you play Kerry, if you don’t take your goal chances you’re in trouble. We got them, but didn’t take them.’
Healy’s taken a deserved amount of flak this season – but he’s not the man at the end of the moves and missing goal chances. That responsibility falls to the guys on the pitch.
The positive is that at least Cork are creating the chances but they’re missing that ruthlessness and clinical finishing that will help close the gap on the teams above.
Paul Kerrigan agrees.
‘We had two or three goal chances and we need to be more clinical,’ he admitted.
‘With a team like us who needs a big win we need everything to go in, especially against one of the top two teams in the country.
‘Our scoring efficiency wasn’t where we wanted it to be at.’
It’s not just the ‘goals for’ column where Cork come up short, the attack doesn’t instil fear into opposition, and while they kicked seven first-half wides on Sunday, Kerry had 16 points on the board before their first wide in the 42nd minute.
‘That’s the level we need to get at. They kicked everything,’ Kerrigan said.
In Division 2 of the league this year Cork racked up a total of 102 points, including those four goals, in seven games, an average of 0-15 per game, but well behind the top three of Galway (135), Kildare (135) and Meath (140).
In Cork’s three championship games they’ve scored 1-12 against Waterford, who finished third bottom of Division 4, 1-10 against Tipperary and now 0-15 against Kerry. That’s a total of 2-37 in three games, 43 points, or 0-14 per game – that’s never going to be enough to nudge Cork towards the teams that stand above them.
It’s also a damning assessment of the (lack of) attack power that Cork’s leading marksman is a 36-year-old veteran who has come on as a sub in all three provincial games; Donncha O’Connor has led the way with 11 points (six frees).
Captain Kerrigan has chipped in with 1-7, Luke Connolly has kicked 1-4 (two frees) in two games, John O’Rourke scored three points against Waterford, Mark Collins has scored four points in the three games, the off-colour Colm O’Neill has managed two frees in two games, Niall Coakley scored two frees against Kerry, while Ian Maguire, Barry O’Driscoll, Tomás Clancy and James Loughrey have all chipped in with one point.
According to stats from the dontfoul blog, after analysing the Munster final, outside of half-time sub Donncha O’Connor, only Mark Collins got more than one shot off during the game. Kerrigan, Connolly, Coakley, Ruairi Deane, Kevin O’Driscoll and Michael Hurley all only managed one shot each. That’s not good enough, or anywhere close. Where’s the threat?
What’s becoming more and more apparent is Cork’s lack of a marquee forward that can shoot the lights out and win a game almost on his own – think Patrick McBrearty’s 11 points for Donegal against Cork in last year’s All-Ireland Round 4 qualifier in Croke Park.
Colm O’Neill (28) has been perceived to be Cork’s go-to man for several seasons, despite his three cruciate injuries, but he was badly out of form against both Waterford and Tipperary, not scoring from play in either, strikingly ineffective in both, and it wasn’t a surprise to see him dropped to the bench against Kerry, though the inclusion of Niall Coakley was a bolter that didn’t work at all.
In fact, looking at the 2016 and ’17 championships combined – four games last season, three this year so far – Kerrigan has racked up 3-16 (1f), Collins has 2-13 (1f) and O’Neill has 1-8 (six frees).
O’Neill did show glimpses during the league, kicking 11 points against Derry, nine against Meath and six against Down, and they are the figures that Cork need now more than ever, as they chase down that breakthrough win.
With O’Neill out of form the Cork attack right now is lacking a standout marksman capable of getting seven points or more per game, and the worry is where are the scores going to come from?
Mayo have Cillian O’Connor (he scored 0-12 against Derry), Kerry have James O’Donoghue and Paul Geaney (they combined for 1-12 last Sunday, the same 15 points as the entire Cork team), Dublin have Dean Rock and a host more – all match-winners.
Who do Cork have right now? The answer: no-one next or near that calibre. Factor in Brian Hurley’s loss, too.
There’s not enough of a threat in the Cork attack, and while young players like Luke Connolly and Michael Hurley are score-getters, they’re young and inexperienced at senior level, and in Connolly’s case, too, he’s very hit and miss, mixing the good with the bad.
What also doesn’t help is the management’s chopping and changing, as they scramble to find the right blend throughout – but a starting front six of Kevin O’Driscoll, Ruairi Deane, Mark Collins, Niall Coakley, Luke Connolly and Paul Kerrigan was never going to score enough to win a Munster final.
Then you have John O’Rourke and Peter Kelleher – granted, not on top of their games – sitting on the bench, two players capable of scoring.
A lack of ruthlessness and a lack of scoring power in a misfiring attack is symptomatic of what’s wrong with this current Cork team: they just can’t take their chances when they come.
With a qualifier against one of Mayo, Clare, Donegal or Meath fast approaching, Cork need to find their shooting boots fast, or it will be another All-Ireland round four qualifier exit and the end of Peadar Healy’s reign on July 22nd.
Struggling Cork have to take their last chance.
Or it’s all over.