WALKING back up the hill from Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Saturday night was a strange feeling.
By Sunday it hadn’t shifted. Cork had lost both games to Kerry but rediscovered something of themselves.
Cork left a chance behind with missed chances and lack of composure but played with a sense of purpose and belief at times that we hadn’t seen for an age against Kerry. It was hard to know how far to push the positive leanings, so we watched the game again to get a less emotional sense of the performance.
As always some aspects looked brighter and some left more doubts. It was possible for example to note the difference between the first half of football where Kerry looked surer and more efficient in movement and scoring and the second half where Cork just went for it with a spiky purpose to make it a war.
The missed chances in one period of the second half where the game was there for the taking (four shots at goal with no reward) jumped out as more harmful than the missed goal chances first half. It was interesting also to spot the growing influence of the rookies for Cork, the likes of Liam O’Donovan who just never stopped driving and making things happen.
In one passage of play in the 65th minute O’Donovan took the ball out of defence and passed the ball on, followed the run forward and then twenty seconds later, gave the handpass for Mark Collins to score. In the 69th minute he stopped a certain Kerry counterattack, left his own man at halfway when he spotted the danger to cut off the space opening up, a remarkable level of decision-making at that stage of his first Munster final.
In the very last minute of injury-time he again linked the ball inside his own forty-five and you can see him take off up the left wing to support and when Kerry won the ball back up inside their own half, there was O’Donovan to push up and stick a hand in for a turnover ball to create Cork’s last chance at a score. That was just seven or eight minutes of impact.
There were other standout moments too. Ruairi Deane stood up David Moran at one stage and just breezed past him with one quick swivel, all the confidence of a man who knew he wouldn’t, couldn’t be stopped and it’s been fascinating to watch Deane’s confidence levels allow him perform these sort of go-bys on players he probably wouldn’t have tried it on maybe three years ago. A great turnover spotted and snapped up by Mark Collins and Ian Maguire at the start of the second half seemed to set the tone for a touch of madness (a nice level of madness) to Cork’s intensity.
An awful lot of that second-half surge at Kerry hinged on those kind of collisions, where Cork created a game of chaos and skirmishes and hunted the ball with pure desire to make it an uncomfortable game for Kerry. Ruairí Deane bashed in on Gavin White around midfield where the Kerry defender expected to have some time on the ball, David Moran got cornered a few times and just about every possession was hard won and meant something. It was aggressive and it felt like a statement of pride to make a stand against Kerry in this kind of way.
If there were takeaways for the longer-term, it was straight-forward enough to spot the direction Cork need to go with this now and there was a relentlessness to the hard support and ball-carrying runs made all evening. Cork punched holes in Kerry’s defence with direct power and speed. More or less all the middle eight are athletic runners with the ball more than natural kickers of ball. Look at the scores Cork ground out.
Goal one came from committing hard to a throw-in on Kerry’s 21. Goal two was runners getting beyond Kerry’s defensive line from a kick-out. Goal three was a ball-carry into Kerry’s defensive area by Killian O’Hanlon and then a swinger from Ian Maguire.
Three of the points from play were created from running the ball into the scoring zone and handpasses to the kicker, the other from a turnover inside Kerry’s 21. Most of the frees came from ball-carriers being fouled.
Only Mark Collins’ goal chance came from a long-ball into Kerry’s full-back line. Again Deane made two goal chances for himself with that whooshing burst into gaps. And if there were times Cork might have mixed it up a bit more, especially with Ian Maguire and Deane drifting towards the Kerry goal later on, it was easy enough to see what plan A was for chance creation.
Cork have legs and a willingness to go hard and most of the attacking play was built around trying to find gaps to run the ball into.
Potential worries ahead? Cork look a team that’ll need to create and take goals from this as shooting 18 points looks unlikely and opposition with more defensive nous may make those spaces more difficult to find. It might not always be possible to recreate the manic type of game conditions Cork whipped up in that second half and they need that level of tempo for their style of play to work properly.
By the way, Kerry have different skillsets, a more naturally fluent style of attack with combinations and a knowledge that getting David Clifford one-v-one will probably result in a chance. You could see even in the minor game that the Kerry forwards just have that different movement about them, that they’re a little craftier at finding spaces to have ball kicked into them when it’s needed.
And just that little bit sharper at moving ball and players to create scoring opportunities. Kerry’s third goal in the minor game especially was a blur of perfect choreography.
This is unlikely to change anytime soon. Kerry are what they are. Cork are a little closer to finding what they would like to become and it’s time to embrace that now, to go with the flow of a team that works better on the front foot with a bit of attitude and when it’s in a rhythm of hard, powerful, positive running.
It was possible to see the beginnings of a mentality in that second half, even if it’s fragile enough that it could be wiped or enhanced in one game, the next one.
Cork go on with a new hope.