FIVE wins from five games is all the better again but, given that Cork are looking to keep building and progressing from last year, a team and management with that mindset are often looking for something more than just the win.
Any team can come with a late surge, especially when they throw off the shackles when there is nothing to lose. The team in control can just get caught, and can struggle to contain that momentum, which is what happened Cork against Derry in their last league game.
With eight minutes remaining, Cork looked home and hosed when leading by ten points, 3-12 to 1-8. Cork had cruised for most of the second half until Derry finally went for broke. A raft of scores, including two goals, cut the deficit to two points. Derry made one last desperate attempt to try and pull off a miraculous comeback but Carlus McWilliams’ delivery was claimed by Mattie Taylor.
“The end of the game put a little bit of a dampener on what was a quality display, particularly in the second half,” said Ronan McCarthy afterwards.
“We were cruising but, again, we let the opposition back into it.”
The final minutes of Cork’s previous game against Tipperary was different but, for a finish, Cork were also hanging on. It’s understandable for an away team to pull up the drawbridge to try and protect a four-point lead but McCarthy and this group are clearly looking for more than just wins. At home against Down, Cork also conceded a late 1-2.
“I said to the players over the last two and a half years, you go out and you play a game and you win and you lose on any given day,” said McCarthy after the Tipp game. “You never know on any given day but you must go out and play with courage for 76 minutes.
“We should have been more courageous and managed the ball better in the final phases of the game.”
Cork did get so much right for the Derry match, especially the quality of some of their football, but the hesitancy they showed late on was also compounded by the final scoreline; for the second game in-a-row, Cork’s concession rate surpassed the 20-point barrier.
It may have only been 14 scores (3-11) as opposed to the 21 scores (0-21) they coughed up against Tipperary but, again, Cork are clearly always looking for more.
In their three previous matches, albeit against Offaly, Leitrim and Down, Cork had only conceded an average of 0-11. Down would have been the best of those sides but Cork still restricted the Ulster side to 1-8.
On the same afternoon, Cork clocked up 0-16 from 11 different scorers. Up to that point of the campaign, Cork had only scored one goal but they bagged six against Tipp and Derry. That provided further confirmation of how Cork are improving and evolving but, always wanting more – especially in Division 3 – is the reason McCarthy publicly highlighted his disappointment with the late showings in their last two matches.
Cork also stuttered their way to a win against Tipp in Thurles 12 months ago but Cork are clearly much further down the road now in their development. A 100% success rate to date in this Division provides sufficient answers to any lingering questions but the campaign has also been satisfying given Cork’s rotational system – Cork have used a colossal 34 players in their five games to date.
And that's before Mark Collins and Brian Hurley came into the side, which they were set to until the Louth game was postponed.
There has been huge experimentation and players have got their chance; against Derry, Anthony Casey started in goal for the first time in the league, while Maurice Shanley was given the number 3 jersey for the first time in the campaign. In the previous four games, Cork had used three different full-backs.
Cork have been racking up big scores and they have also had a huge scoring spread, with 19 different scorers. In four of those five games, Cork have had seven or more scorers from play.
Young forwards have been given their chance and they have embraced it.
Cathal O’Mahony has showcased the immense talent he displayed in last year’s U20 campaign; along with starting four games, and coming on as a sub against Derry, O’Mahony has been entrusted with much of the free-taking duties. Yet he has also scored from play in every game, clocking nine points.
Damien Gore only featured in three games but his form has also been steadily building as he banks more experience and game-time; Gore hit 1-3 from play against Derry.
John O’Rourke also bagged 2-2 against Derry, which was a high of the campaign, but O’Rourke has scored from play in every match.
The blocks are steadily being put in place. Having Down and Derry at home was a big plus in such a competitive division but those two matches were still always going to provide an accurate barometer of where Cork were really at.
As well as playing some quality football on both of those afternoons, and racking big scores, Cork were very controlled and comfortable in both games against opposition that are not easy to play against.
They just didn’t close out those games as well as they’d have liked to. Cork should close out their regular league campaign tomorrow with a result against Louth.
And from then on, Cork will ramp up that pursuit for more.