THERE’S nearly always a realisation with certain players that you’re dealing with something different.
For Sean Powter, I remember a Munster semi-final in 2017 where a Tipp player passed to a teammate to run onto in metres of space only for Powter to turn on the turbo boost and fly past with the sort of speed that drew laughs and gasps from the crowd. He did something remarkably similar in the league game in 2018, eating up 10m in a blink to get a fist to a ball that no ordinary person would have imagined going for and score a point that had the crowd off their seats.
He tore his hamstring badly shortly afterwards and if it felt for a while like those little highlights might never be added to for Powter, the performance and influence against Kerry gave the smallest hint of what can be possible again.
When speaking to anybody who’s worked with Powter over the years only two potential issues were raised in relation to stopping him becoming a serious player at the very highest intercounty level. One, injury, which has pretty much been the constant theme of the past three seasons and which has been attributed variously to burn out from overuse, 4g pitches and the one horrible drawback of that explosive power.
It’s being managed as well as possible now with learnings from the player on when to step back as well as the necessary guidance from the management and medical team who’ve minded him. Powter has spoken for example about physio Brian O’Connell introducing speed earlier in the rehab this time which he felt made a difference.
Two, positional flux, or various managers trying several different ideas over time on how to get the best from him and disrupting any natural flow in his game. Powter generally played defence growing up, came into the senior set-up as a centre-forward after having an impact there with Douglas seniors and Cork U21s.
In the game with Kerry a fortnight ago, Powter played generally as a free man around the half-back area. He came to meet any runners who threatened Cork’s middle defensive zone.
One turnover tackle on Ronan Buckley early on perfectly illustrated his value here. He was available as a spare player coming out with ball or backing the play up from behind. He kick-passed to Brian Hurley at one stage and has that vision and ability in his locker.
He didn’t break the line as often as Ronan McCarthy would probably have liked but when he did join attacks there were generally good outcomes.
He kicked a score in the first half, racing onto a handpass into a space and clipping over on the run. His leg speed carrying the ball is as impressive as his control of the basics at high tempo and it would make sense for Cork to have Powter as a regular line-breaker in that middle third.
He’s got more finishing and scores in him than any other Cork player from two to nine.
He created a chance for Luke Connolly. And it was Powter who finally made the break right at the end, had a shot blocked, scrambled to win the loose ball and then wrangled a free from a situation that looked unlikely to yield the necessary foul, just by having that little jink step even in the last minute.
All the top teams now have that dynamic middle third with legs and pace to run into the spaces all day. Most of the clips of Mayo on The Sunday Game last Sunday showed their half-back line and midfield bursting forward aggressively and at speed with the ball. Dublin had Eoin Murchan’s running to thank for the All-Ireland final big score last summer and have James McCarthy and Brian Fenton to open teams up.
The way Ronan McCarthy and Cian O’Neill have set up has a real emphasis on being patient but having that strike in them then once the chance can be created. Cork didn’t take a lot of shots on against Kerry so there’s clearly a focus on getting the ball into the right areas and to the right people. Cork already have that running power from the likes of Maguire and O’Hanlon and Taylor but Powter gives something extra on the ball, a little unpredictability away from the straight lines.
Think of the goal he scored against Mayo in 2017. A goal he got against Kerry at U21 the year before. Cork want Powter running onto ball as he has all the skills available to (A) hop 40-yard kick-passes over the defensive line; (B) punch holes with strong ball-carrying, and (C) kick a score or give an assist if he does get inside.
Cork without Powter have plenty of legs and energy. But with Powter, there’s a threat to the opposition, the quality that can unlock a situation and make scores happen.
The Kerry game probably wasn’t even the best example, with Powter hyper-disciplined in his defensive responsibilities and the opportunity of running ball limited by the conditions. The Tipp game could be more open and Powter with the run of Croke Park to gallop into would be fun to watch. Having that electric pace on the ball as often as possible in the right areas has to be part of the plan for Cork to create the necessary chances to win games from now on.
One person who’s seen a lot of him mentioned Paul Murphy of Kerry a while back as the sort of job he can do for Cork. In an U21 game a few years’ ago, a TG4 commentator compared the speed running with ball to someone like Darren O’Sullivan and James McCartan. Most players get the speed or the ability; Powter gives two types of player in one.
There’s more too, though. For the longest time there it seemed that every time Cork football supporters heard his name mentioned there was an apprehension involved, with a sort of what’s gone wrong now element. Powter himself made references to the fourth or fifth injury and said he wondered about being able to keep repeating the same slog to come back over and over again, going to training knowing he wouldn’t get on the pitch with the others.
There was a warmth there after his Man-of-the-Match interview after Kerry, the knowledge from everyone involved of what he’d done to get to that point again, winning a big game with Cork rather than watching in frustration from the stands, like Tyrone 2018.
There’s a leadership element among the younger crew.
The more we get to talk about what Powter is doing on the field the better it will be for Cork football.