CORK play Roscommon on the August Bank Holiday is what is, technically, a meaningless game.
Whether they come third or fourth in their Super 8 group, the Rebels are out of the All-Ireland championship and must start again in 2020, with promotion from Division 3 their initial target. Getting back to the quarter-final series, ideally as Munster champions, though that would mean the first victory in Killarney for 25 years, will be next up.
In that context, beating the Rossies is very important.
It’s all well and good to celebrate that Cork have made huge strides this summer and performed, for the most part, excellently against the Kingdom, Dublin and Tyrone. They were moral-victories rather than actual wins.
In getting the better of Mayo and Galway on the road, Roscommon had a superb run in Connacht. Yet they didn’t do as well against Tyrone, even with home advantage, and Dublin as Cork did and are a beatable team.
While it’s a pity Páirc Uí Chaoimh is unavailable, there should be a better atmosphere in Páirc Uí Rinn the weekend after next. It’s where Cork train quite a bit so is more of an advantage than the bigger Páirc.
With the hurlers out, the footballers deserve a crowd to acknowledge the strides they’ve made in recent weeks. It’s not like there were too many made the effort to get to the other games.
Having watched the Kerry and Donegal epic on Sunday, it’s clear that Cork are well below the standard of the genuine All-Ireland contenders. Had Ronan McCarthy’s charges pulled off an upset against Tyrone and then beaten the Rossies, they wouldn’t have been experienced or balanced enough to really trouble Kerry, Donegal, or even Mayo, in a semi-final at Croker.
For all the progress made, McCarthy and his backroom team have a few areas to target to bridge the gap further to the elite outfits.
While Cork are scoring goals, and creating plenty of chances, they are coughing up too many at the other end. Even Laois had a host of opportunities to raise green flags and Limerick almost rattled the net from the throw-in in the Munster opener.
It’s probably not an issue with personnel, because Tom Clancy and James Loughrey have found their best form again and Mattie Taylor and Liam O’Donovan have been revelations in the wing-back berths. The central channel has been opened up on occasion though and there isn’t a recognised stopper in the number six role.
Injuries have been a factor but there has been a bit of chopping and changing in centre-back. Credit to the selectors though, they’ve been flexible in their approach and drafting Nemo’s Stephen Cronin in from the cold as sweeper gave them an edge, in the first half at least until Mattie Donnelly pushed up, against Tyrone.
In terms of concentration levels, Cork have switched off for spells in the second half of the Super 8 ties and paid a heavy price. The opposition will always have a period of dominance but it’s about minimising the impact on the scoreboard. The Dubs hit Cork for 3-1 in four minutes, Tyrone 2-2 in a similar blast, and they went to sleep for 10 minutes against Laois too.
Up front, you can’t argue with the tally of 13 goals or the efforts made by Mark Collins, Brian Hurley and Luke Connolly in leading the line. They haven’t all been at their best in every game but they’re sharing the scoring load and they’ve each nailed brilliant scores.
Against the better defensive systems, Cork will need to get the ball in a bit quicker and probably need more movement and variety inside from the target-men. Hurley, in particular, was starved of possession against Kerry and Tyrone, while Collins ended up rushing a few shots.
What was encouraging was Michael Hurley’s haul of 0-4 last Saturday, while Eoghan McSweeney showed he can be a distance-shooter in the Limerick win, before a hip injury ruined his campaign. Paul Kerrigan was terrific in the second half against Laois and in running at the Dubs and while he’s 33 this year he still has something to offer.
Getting Sean Powter back fit, as a runner feeding off the offloads from Ruairí Deane, Ian Maguire and Seán White will add a different dimension again to the front six.
In the longer term, there are some very promising inside forwards in the minor and U20 teams. Clyda Rovers’ Conor Corbett has been the talisman for the minors, while Cathail O’Mahony has been electric for the U20s, ably supported by Mark Cronin and Damien Gore.
In the half-forward line, Colm O’Callaghan, Blake Murphy and Hugh Murphy all look the part.