IF there’s a theory you can tell a lot about a team by their warm-up, the differing emphasis from Cork and Down ought have given clues on what to expect on Sunday afternoon.
Both teams set up game-type situations.
Cork worked on a six-v-six scenario, opening up the spaces and moving the ball quickly into one-v-one situations. Down put everybody in their squad inside the 45 and worked on stopping the players in possession getting the ball into the shooting zone.
This was more or less the story of the game as it happened. Cork attacking and Down defending.
Ronan McCarthy’s team spent almost all of the first three-quarters of the game in possession, looking for spaces to work the ball into scoring positions and eventually they found enough ways to do so – it was notable that the attacking play clicked more once the game opened up in that third quarter and Cork had spaces to run into playing against the very strong wind.
Any performance reviews probably must taken into account the really difficult conditions here.
That balance between patience in creating chances against a mass defence and not being forceful or penetrating enough is a tricky one – it was hard to know at times if Cork were probing cleverly by moving the ball back and forth across the field or if they just weren’t able to commit to a solution.
Most of the first half was played inside the Down half, Cork pushed up and won possession mostly from kick-outs and then it was just a matter of if they could break through.
Long spells of passing sometimes led to shots that were snatched at. Tadhg Corkery and Cathal O’Mahony both had two wides each that were very probably the right thing to take on but that came across as slightly panicky when they didn’t go over.
When Cork struggled, that timing and speed of runs didn’t take defenders out often enough, the transitions when they turned over ball in the middle third seemed too slow at times and there was no connection really on kicking the ball into the inside-forward line.
And still Cork found scores slowly simply by having so much ball.
Sean Powter made a burst to create a goal chance for Ciarán Sheehan. Again here Cork had two goal chances created, none taken.
Liam O’Donovan made a really good run and got fouled for a free.
For one point just before half-time, Kevin Crowley ran the ball down into the left corner-forward position and Cork moved the ball back and across and all the way over to the other corner-forward spot where Ruairí Deane got one-v-one with a poor victim – only one result here, point.
That search for the spaces to get runners in behind lines ended up being Cork’s most prolific chance creator in the end.
The weather was a factor how the team were able to move the ball as long kick-passing was simply extremely difficult but Cork’s more natural running game from the middle third came out in that second half.
Liam O’Donovan and Sean White had a lovely combination running move up the left wing – O’Donovan kicked a score and was a constant influence with his ability to carry the ball past players.
Cork got six points in a row in that third quarter from play from running the ball into the scoring area.
Damien Gore had a clever jink to make space and kick a nice point.
Cathail O’Mahony showed both his kicking ability and real bravery in hitting a ball into the wind from way out that just soared over, the sort of score that only he could have gotten and that gave a glimpse of what he brings to this potentially.
By the way, to continue that remarkable scores theme, Luke Connolly then kicked a free from the sideline out on the right wing into a storm wind.
Cork had those moments of individual quality that made them better than Down and the combinations, where the timing of support runners clicked and Cork were able to get players in behind the opposition defensive lines, were impressive on those times they did come together.
Powter and Corkery have added more running energy to the O’Donovan/ Taylor lines of last summer.
Here’s one thing that jumped out though. The 10 years from the All-Ireland final was mentioned a lot last week. Sheehan’s comeback was a handy reference here, Sheehan never really got into this game as Cork didn’t get ball into the full-forward line at all really in that first half) with a Division 3 clash seen as a sign of how far things have fallen for these counties.
One obvious aspect emerging now is that in the same way that 2010 group had a core leadership, this is very much becoming Ian Maguire’s team in particular (and Deane’s).
Maguire was immense again here, constantly driving the team, always available to take the ball and always looking to take on players. He ran down the middle to kick two points himself, one off his left foot, one off his right.
At one point Deane carried a ball way up the pitch, Maguire took over and brought the ball into the forward for a score. He made kick-outs his own at times, when they were needed.
Right near the end, Cian O’Neill came onto the field to try and get one more effort from him and was almost holding Maguire up as he was out on his feet – he got fouled from the kick-out.
Maguire has made this his team.
And Cork are a team that again found a decent winning score, that conceded less than nine scores and that now has the momentum and belief of three wins to work with.
Again they found a way or made a way.