AS if beating Kerry wasn’t and isn’t difficult enough, we sometimes feel the need to concoct new variations on a potential win as well.
For a few years in the mid-to-late 2000s Cork had to beat them at Croke Park for it to be meaningful (they didn’t) and then more recently the Killarney hoodoo had to be broken (still hasn’t been).
Now Cork just desperately want a win of any kind. It’s 2012 since the last time Kerry were beaten in championship.
It’s 1999 since Cork beat them in a knockout game (we received more than one message referencing this game during the week).
Any patterns or hope?
Cork won in 2012 because they were a better team at the time. The 1999 win in a sodden Páirc had a kind of old-style madness to it, driven by a manic energy from a manager and players and fans who wanted and needed it.
It’s hard to make a reasonable case for Cork being a better team than Kerry right now. Can they recreate the necessary madness without the swirl of a heaving stadium?
A few things to note. The knockout nature of things can slightly change the dynamic here.
There was a feeling last year heading into the Munster final that Cork maybe needed a reasonable performance and then qualification for a run of games in the super eights to enable progression more than any expectation of an actual win over Kerry.
That’s not really a factor now.
Any hint of Kerry having one eye on later tests can be chipped away at. Any idea on Cork learning from defeat or improving for the year is gone.
Mark Collins has mentioned the need to win a big game at some stage for Cork to make this breakthrough. It’s win or bust with all the freedoms and fear that can entail.
The nature of the last several months increases that sense of Cork hiding in the long grass and also means that form lines are tricky to follow.
Noises from the camp on Cian O’Neill’s influence have been strong from the start. Sean Powter told of basics like passing off his weak hand in games which he’d never done before.
Training is sharp and based on game scenarios to allow Cork create patterns of play with and without the ball.
Some of the U20s from last year are pushing into the team and bringing their own energy and it is actually a pity they haven’t had a normal year of training/games/a run in championship to allow for development.
Cork had a spikiness in the middle third last year in the games with Kerry, Dublin and Tyrone especially that’ll need replicating.
Ian Maguire led that charge but you can expect Killian O’Hanlon to have an influence on any driving to be done as well. Ruairí Deane would like to find the form of before the Super 8s last summer. Mattie Taylor will need to do more to make up for Liam O’Donovan’s absence.
One of the main go-to scorers, a Mark Collins or Luke Connolly say, stepping into their club form of this year would be a necessity to get enough goals and points at this level of winning games.
A batch of legs and mentality from the U20s, take a pick from Meehan, Ring, Shanley, O’Callaghan, Gore, O’Mahony, might swing some sheer willingness.
And yet the game is different now, harder to turn into a relentless fight-for-every-ball bloodbath.
Jim McGuiness made the point last week about the style of football most every team plays now, with the constant keeping of possession until a space can be found, a game played in bursts of moments rather than in fluid rhythms of turnovers and constant attacking.
Tyrone/Donegal last weekend followed that pattern generally and games are being won by teams that can turn chances/shots into scores most efficiently (sounds simple of course but details are where the shots are taken from, who’s taking them, etc).
Cork must try and attack Kerry in enough numbers that can create overloads and get shooters into scoring positions while not leaving themselves open to counterattacks on turnovers.
Kerry have been working on this type of game anyway after getting caught with runners v Dublin last year, cutting spaces in their defence and attacking at speed then with runners like Gavin White and Tom O’Sullivan.
It hardly needs pointing out that David Clifford’s shooting stats are as impressive as you’d imagine and that any situation that leads to Clifford getting ball in the danger zone is a potential disaster. Cork don’t have a marker for one-v-one with a forward like this, nobody does. But spaces and scoring areas will have to be clogged and Clifford with ball in hands kept to a minimum.
There were situations in last year’s Munster final where he got kick-passes into one-v-one situations from very simple structures that Cork ought to have had control of.
If we’re watching Kerry half-backs carry balls into Cork’s scoring zone and/or Clifford and O’Se (and now Tony Brosnan) receiving ball without pressure then things haven’t worked out.
Cork must be aggressive but clever as overcommitting will leave them vulnerable. That balance will have to be found again.
Cork have won every game this year with all the confidence and momentum that brings.
But there’s this nagging reality it was Division three football, so when Cork were going back and forth with Offaly in February, Kerry were putting 1-19 on Dublin. Cork have had 5-19 against Louth since lockdown but Kerry have had games with Monaghan and Donegal. Cork’s defensive record against Kerry in recent years isn’t pretty – 1-23, 3-18, 1-19.
They gave up over twenty points in all Super 8 games last summer and even in this year’s league conceded 0-21 and 3-11 to Tipp and Derry.
Can Cork find a way to hold Kerry to less than 20 points in total? Can Cork throw something new into the fire that can spark some belief at the right time in the game and just maybe cause doubt in Kerry?
Cork got three goals last year that made things interesting; they’ll likely need to find that at least again to win it.
There’s more confidence than previous years that under Ronan McCarthy (corner-back in 1999 remember) and Cian O’Neill that Cork will be well-prepared and the players will respond.
Whether they can find that extra bit to make up the quality we can only see on Sunday.