IN terms of the primary objective of winning promotion back to Division 2, Cork’s first three games in Division 3 of the Allianz Football League have gone pretty much as well as they could.
Apart from the first half of the opening game against Offaly, when Cork lacked the necessary patience to break down their opponents before changing tack in the second period, Ronan McCarthy’s side have been superior to the teams they have faced.
Their winning margins have been seven points against Offaly, nine against Leitrim last Sunday week and then five points in the most recent outing, against Down at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday.
You could quibble with a return of one goal in three games, given the quality of chances created, but overall Cork have played positively and pressed home their advantages.
Across the three games, 17 different players have scored, which underlines just how strong the competition for places is.
As McCarthy said after Sunday’s game, he and his management are finding it hard now to pick matchday squads of 26, let alone a starting 15.
At the other end of the field, Seán Powter has slotted back in as if he was never away, carrying out his defensive duties and then providing an extra body in attack.
In the first half on Sunday, he cut through the Down defence, belying the number 2 on his back, and set up a goal chance for Ciarán Sheehan, who was unlucky to shoot wide from a tight angle.
Tadhg Corkery, who came off the bench against Offaly before starting the two most recent games, has impressed at wing-back, making a number of key interventions against Down and also scoring a point.
And in midfield, captain Ian Maguire is operating at a consistently high level, his two points on Sunday a reward for his attacking forays.
Tipperary away on Saturday week is Cork’s next assignment and the avoidance of defeat there will almost certainly guarantee promotion.
Cork actually finished with 13 men on Sunday, with the ever-unlucky Kevin Crowley forced off injured late on, after all of the five subs had been made, with Seán White sent off for a second booking prior to that.
Also receiving a red card on Sunday was Kerry captain David Clifford.
He was booked early on in the Division 1 clash with Tyrone, and then in the second half his marker Ben McDonnell grappled with him and dragged him to the ground.
As is so often the case in these scenarios, the referee Fergal Kelly issued a pair of yellow cards.
It meant that Clifford was off and, with Tyrone already down to 14 men after Peter Harte received his marching orders, the numerical imbalance was remedied.
Kelly probably didn’t see the whole incident and so two bookings seemed like the best action to take, but one would have to question the role of the umpires, standing so close to the goal.
In these situations, where the attacker is looking to score and the defender’s job is to stop and frustrate him, it is almost always the back that is the initial aggressor.
However, referees are less likely to just penalise them — it’s like the worn-down parent who declares that no child will get ice-cream — and the backs know this, so we get these skirmishes where each of the warring parties receives the same punishment.
It’s not solely a GAA problem, to be fair.
In soccer, referees give far more free kicks to the defending teams at corner kicks compared to awarding penalties to the attacking sides, even though logic tells us that shirt-pulling and general obstruction is something of far more use to the defenders.
There is probably some psychological explanation for the way that it’s easier for adjudicators to prevent a goal, or lessen its likelihood, as opposed to making its occurrence more probable.
The old saying is of course that goals change games — taken literally, they do on the scoreboard, but they also change the two teams’ behaviour in terms of their approach — and there is a general desire for outside actors, which the referees are, not to interfere with the scoreline.
Perhaps the Clifford incident will spark a change to the lazy “book ’em both” tactic, but we won’t be holding our breath.