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Ruairí Deane of Cork in action against Leo McLoone of Donegal. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Ruairí Deane of Cork in action against Leo McLoone of Donegal. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
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The Christy O'Connor column: The stats show why the Cork footballers are being dragged towards Division 3

AT the end of any league campaign, the table doesn’t lie.

The points gathered, the scores accumulated and conceded, always tell the full story. And it’s easy to see why Cork are currently bottom of Division 2, and hanging on in that Division by their fingernails.

Clare and Tipperary may be on the same number of points, while they have also won just one game to date in this campaign, but Fermanagh are the only other team in Division 2 to have scored less than Cork.

Yet Fermanagh are still in with a chance of promotion to Division One because they have conceded 3-30 less than Cork in six matches.

Along with having the worst concession rate in the Division, there are only two other teams in the entire four Divisions – Roscommon and Sligo – which have a worse concession rate than Cork.

Sligo are already relegated, and Roscommon also look set to suffer that fate on Sunday.

Division 2 hasn’t exactly been a score-fest this spring. After six rounds last year, four teams had hit 75 or more white flags but Meath and Donegal are the only two sides to reach or surpass that total to date.

Three of the sides in Division 2 (including Cork) have failed to even surpass 60 white flags this spring. Scoring has been a huge issue for Cork, having averaged just 1-9 in six matches.

And in the modern game, that’s relegation shooting.

The devil is in the detail. Despite drawing with Fermanagh 1-5 to 0-8, Fermanagh had 14 more shots at the target than Cork that day (24-10).

Fermanagh may have scored the least in Division 2 but there is a misconception that they are a totally defensive team; because they have been getting off a huge number of shots in most games.

Fermanagh’s capacity to marry the defensive/attacking part of their game has pushed them close to Division 1. On the other hand, Cork’s struggles to do something similar has left them hovering about the trapdoor to Division 3.

Accuracy and economy are always more valuable than the volume of chances created but a team still has more chance of winning if they can keep creating chances.

Cork only had a 56% conversion rate that evening against Tipperary but they had 13 more shots than they managed against Fermanagh, and seven more than they got off against Clare.

Studying statistics from those three games also showed the difficulties Cork have had on both their own kickout, and pressing the opposition kickout.

In those three games, Cork sourced just 25% of their scores off their own kickout. In this campaign to date, the average percentage of scores sourced from their own kickout – in Divisions 1 and 2 – has been running at roughly 39%.

Similarly, Cork sourced just over 8% of their scores in those three matches from the opposition kickout.

The average on that statistic to date this spring is 14%. 

Cork have been sourcing most of their scores off turnovers. In those three games analysed, 66% of their scores came off turnovers but that won’t be easy to manage against Armagh in Armagh.

Micheal Hurley is tackled by Caolan Ward of Donegal. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Micheal Hurley is tackled by Caolan Ward of Donegal. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Fermanagh have also been generating most of their scores off turnovers – roughly 63% - but Armagh shut them down last Saturday. Fermanagh didn’t score for 40 minutes.

They managed just one scoring chance in half an hour. Fermanagh only managed six points in total over the 70 minutes.

Armagh were always going to be pumped for Fermanagh. Their win last weekend has staved off the threat of relegation for Armagh.

They can’t reach a league final but a Kieran McGeeney managed side won’t be taking the foot off the gas now, especially at home.

Armagh are unbeaten at home in this league while their form has been more consistent than the table shows.

They drew with Kildare and Clare while their two defeats – to Donegal and Meath – were both by just one kick of the ball.

In any case, a Cork win may still not be enough to save themselves from the trapdoor.

If Cork do beat Armagh, they need Tipperary to beat Clare, or else that match to end in a draw.

If Cork drew with Armagh, and Clare and Tipperary ended in a stalemate, all three teams would end on four points but Cork would go down on scoring difference.

Apart from needing results elsewhere to go for them, it’s hard to see how Cork can turn this around at this stage, especially with such a tricky away fixture against a team with a good defensive record.

Cork don’t need to shoot the lights out to win but the stats show how difficult they have found scoring.

The failed to hit more than 11 scores in their first four matches but at least Cork increased that tally to 1-12 in their last two matches against Tipperary and Donegal.

It has been surprising, especially when compared to other sides, that just 0-18 of Cork’s total score to date has come from placed balls.

They have had 16 different scorers from play but Cork have struggled to find consistent scorers from play; there were just seven occasions in this league when a Cork player hit two or more scores in a match.

There were just two occasions when a player surpassed that two-score barrier in one match; Michael Hurley’s five points against Kildare, and Eoghan McSweeney’s three points against Donegal.

Eoghan McSweeney scores last weekend. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Eoghan McSweeney scores last weekend. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

After Hurley, who has scored 0-12, Cork’s next highest scorer from play is Mattie Taylor, with 2-2. 

Cork have won just one of their last eight league and championship matches. Clare and Tipperary may also have only one league win to date this season but their numbers have still been better than Cork’s.

And at the end of any league, the numbers never lie.