DENIS HURLEY crunched the numbers after Cork’s football league campaign to see what we can learn
AFTER a national football league campaign characterised by uncertainty and inconsistency, what exactly can we taken from a look at the various different statistics thrown up?
The clearest thing one can say is that, barring any outside agents, Jamie O’Sullivan will be at full-back when Clare play their first championship game against either Tipperary or Waterford in a Munster semi-final at the end of May or start of June, depending on the opponents.
The Bishopstown man was the only player to start all seven of Cork’s games in Division 2 in the same position and was the only player to start and finish all of the matches (Mark Collins almost meets this criterion too, but was black-carded deep into injury time in the win over Meath).
Collins, O’Sullivan, captain Ian Maguire and Colm O’Neill were the only four players to feature in every game, with O’Neill an ever-present after a 23-minute cameo in the opening game, a defeat to Tipperary in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
He made his presence felt in that match with a goal and a point and would go on to be Cork’s top scorer across the league as a whole. However, take out O’Neill’s contribution in that game and Cork’s substitutes – the maximum six per game in each outing – only scored four points across the whole campaign, which must be something of a worry in terms of being able to change games.
Unsurprisingly for a team in sixth place, Cork’s total scoring output of 7-90, a total of 111, was among the lower tallies. Apart from the two relegated counties, Down and Louth, only Clare kicked less (oddly, the Banner finished in third with a scoring difference of minus ten).
And, while Cork’s average per game of just less than 1-13 wasn’t terrible, in two home games – Cavan and Clare – they conceded 0-14 and failed to win. Their highest tally was 2-15 in the win over Meath but second-highest, 1-16, came in the two-goal loss to Tipp.
Fourteen players in total registered scores across the league, and while they never had fewer than four scorers per game, only in the games against Tipp and Louth had they more than five (seven and six respectively).
O’Neill scored in every game, notching 2-26, 2-17 of that from play, while Collins, only held scoreless against Roscommon, had 1-25, with 11 frees. After those two, though, the third-highest scorer for Cork was Seán White, with 1-8.
The Clon man only featured in five games as he missed the last two through injury, but he scored more than once in four of the matches he did feature in. His output was excellent for a wing-forward, but it’s an indictment of those around him that he features so highly in the charts.
If fit, White is a nailed-on starter for the championship, but the fact that seven other players featured at wing-forward, and five at centre-forward, shows that there is a lot of uncertainty for other spots.
Of the three goalkeepers, White’s brother Seán played four games and looks to be in pole position, while Sam Ryan was the corner-back to appear most, ahead of Micheál McSweeney and Kevin Flahive.
In the half-back line, Tomás Clancy was the closest to an ever-present, a sub against Tipp and starting every other one, while Ian Maguire started all the games at midfield, alongside Killian O’Hanlon for five of them.
Ruairí Deane partnered the St Finbarr’s man for one game and was at number 12 for four others before succumbing to injury, while O’Neill, Collins and John O’Rourke were the most commonly seen players in the full-forward line.
Perhaps impeding Cork’s league as a preparation for championship was the fact that the Nemo Rangers contingent were absent – Paul Kerrigan, Luke Connolly and Stephen Cronin are probable starters with Barry O’Driscoll another possibility – and Aidan Walsh was absent first due to Kanturk commitments and then injury.
The fact that such quality players can come back in has to be heartening, even if there has been a lack of opportunity for the championship team to gel.
Even so, no matter how the players have changed, in every game Cork endured periods where they were overrun, and this is illustrated by the fact that they only outscored their opponents twice in the second half of games, in the win over Down and then the loss against Cavan.
Going back to Peadar Healy’s tenure and even to Brian Cuthbert’s, those episodes pock-marked Cork’s performances and it is only their eradication which can increase consistency and therefore yield better results.