Analysis: Cork's style of attacking down the flanks cost them football All-Stars

Analysis: Cork's style of attacking down the flanks cost them football All-Stars
Castlehaven's John Cleary is one of the Cork footballers unfortunate not to have picked up an All-Star in the positions the Rebels have never been honoured in.

PUBS. Remember them?

For those who don’t remember, at one time in our lives they were vibrant settings where people congregated on a regular basis to interact socially and to enjoy themselves.

Various matters would be discussed; topics such as politics, religion, history and particularly sport.

One of the main staples of such discussions would be the posing of the trivia question.

One of the great GAA trivia questions that would regularly have been asked from the bar stool perch was to name the only county to win an All-Star in every position on the pitch in both hurling and football.

Many a biased individual down south would insist that it had to be Cork, yet that was the very trap that the asker of the question was hoping their prey would fall into.

The answer, of course, is Offaly.

The Offaly footballers won three All-Irelands in 1971, 1972 and 1982 and the hurlers won their four All-Irelands in 1981, 1985, 1994 and 1998. These campaigns allowed the Faithful county to collect the bulk of the All-Stars that saw them become that first county to garner every award in every position in both codes.

For the record, Offaly have since been joined by Galway, who received the last remaining hurling All-Stars they required in 2015 to complete the collection.

Cork, however, are still waiting.

Eight times in their history the Cork footballers have ended the year with a player having won the right corner-forward All-Star.

Thanks to Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Paul McGrath, Colin Corkery, Philip Clifford, Daniel Goulding and Colm O’Neill, the number 13 gong has been a regular visitor to Leeside.

Éire Óg and former Cork forward Daniel Goulding. Picture: Dan Linehan
Éire Óg and former Cork forward Daniel Goulding. Picture: Dan Linehan

The big anomaly though is that Cork have never won a 15 berth All-Star. They also have never had a number 12.

For one reason, or another the left side of the Cork attack just has never been rated as top-notch down the years.

It’s a difficult one to fathom.

Cork have had some superb left corner forwards down the years.

Recently this publication printed a piece looking at the greatest Cork players never to win an All-Star and the forward line was packed with quality attackers who played a lot in the 15 position.

Jimmy Barrett, Donnacha O’Connor, Paul Kerrigan, Mick McCarthy and John Cleary were the players in question.

Donncha O'Connor, Duhallow, takes on Eoghan Deasy, Clonakilty. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Donncha O'Connor, Duhallow, takes on Eoghan Deasy, Clonakilty. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

It seems bizarre that none of these wonderful forwards picked up an All-Star, especially during one of Cork’s four All-Ireland triumphs since the introduction of the All-Star awards in 1971.

Perhaps a clue as to why the left hand side of the Cork attack has never been granted an All-Star lies in an extract of Jim McGuinness’Until Victory Always, when he briefly analyses Conor Counihan’s Cork side in the build-up to the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final between Cork and his Donegal side.

“Cork liked to stretch the football wide early in their attack. That left room for runners coming through. When they attacked down the wing, they liked to kick the ball into the same corner, which was unusual.

“Most teams liked to kick across to the other corner. A traditional team, getting long high ball into the square early on and testing full-backs. Excellent at getting ahead of the ball.”

The line about kicking into the same corner is the salient one. The likelihood is that the majority of players on a team are going to be right-footed, and if that team’s tactic is to kick into the same corner then naturally the right corner is where that team is going to have most joy.

Other counties, who kick diagonal ball into the opposite corner, will obviously be the exact opposite to Cork, as right-footed playmakers will be kicking the majority of ball into the left corner.

Paul Kerrigan and Kerry's Kieran Donaghy exchange views. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Paul Kerrigan and Kerry's Kieran Donaghy exchange views. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Therefore, Jimmy Barrett, Donnacha O’Connor, Paul Kerrigan, Mick McCarthy, and John Cleary can blame Cork’s approach for their lack of recognition.

Corner forwards are completely reliant on the service provided to them.

We’ve all seen the scenario where a corner forward is starved of possession, as his team is getting wiped out in the middle third, and yet the first change that the manager of that team can think of making is to haul that lonely corner-forward off.

For these Cork 15s to have been recognised as the best player in their position in any given year they were, and still are, reliant on accurate ball being played down the left flank.

That approach, of course, means that they require a few lefties in the team to make them look good.

You would like to think that Cork could complete the All-Star collection soon. The man of the match in last year’s All-Ireland U21 Football final was Mitchelstown’s Cathail O’Mahony, who had a brilliant campaign in the 15 shirt.

Given that he is an expert free-taker it is likely that he will register big totals in the Cork shirt in the coming years.

The big question is as to whether he receives the type of service, from play, that left corner-forwards in other counties get.

Outside him, Ruairí Deane has become one of Cork’s leaders in recent campaigns. If Cork were to have a successful season and reach Croke Park then he could well be in with a shout of an award too.

Just the small matter of beating Kerry in the Munster Championship and that trivia question may have a different answer at last.

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