Cork footballers must pick themselves up with Tyrone looming large

Cork footballers must pick themselves up with Tyrone looming large
Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

IT seems strange to be emanating positive vibes in the wake of a 13-point defeat.

Considering the journey that the Cork footballers have been on in recent years though, they can only be commended for their Croke Park display against All-Ireland champions Dublin.

5-18 to 1-17 was the final score in the opening Super 8 encounter, with 3-1 conceded in about five minutes late on putting an ugly sheen on the scoreline. But that’s Dublin for you. 

This side is one of the greatest to ever play the game, and they are utterly ruthless. If you don’t match them in every department from first whistle to last they will punish you.

Still, Cork showed that they are not unbeatable on Saturday.

Dublin had conceded only 1-25 in their three championship games to date this year, but Cork rocked them with 1-17 on Saturday night. You could tell that the Dublin faithful were not used to such cheekiness from the opposition. 

Cork proved that this Dublin defence can be got at. Dublin utilise a blanket defence when they are without the ball, even if the Dublin based media would be slow to admit that fact, yet Cork were able to puncture this fifteen man wall time and time again.

The problem that Cork, and everyone else, faces now is figuring our how to keep Dublin out at the other end. That’s easier said than done.

Ultimately Dublin’s superior fitness levels told, with them running riot in those cruel last 10 minutes.

At one stage, in the middle of the second half, Cork captain Ian Maguire went on an 80-metre lung-bursting run down the middle of the Croke Park pitch before he finally managed to lay it off for a supporting teammate. Maguire spent the next three or four minutes sitting on his haunches on his own 65m line, struggling to get oxygen back into his system, as Cork slowly moved the ball back and forth in a semi-circle looking for a weakness in the Dublin defence.

This is not a criticism of the Cork captain. It is just fact. 

The Cork players had gone deep by this stage in trying to keep pace with the five-in-a-row seeking Dubs. At this stage reinforcements were badly needed from the bench. Cork were right in the tie, but the players out on the pitch were running out of steam, and quickly. The bench should have been completely emptied at this point. Pace and freshness were required.

Michael Hurley was eventually introduced, and to good effect as well, but it was a few minutes too late, and the likes of John O’Rourke, Cian Kiely, Steven Sherlock, Ronan O’Toole and Kevin O’Donovan should also have been brought on around the 50-minute mark. 

O’Donovan and Hurley came on in the 56th minute, with the other four coming on in dribs and drabs in the last seven minutes, when some Cork players had long since gone well past the empty dial on the fuel gauge.

This fitness deficit is to be expected at this stage of this Cork team’s development. It is not that long ago that the Cork senior football team were busy painting and equipping their own gym up in Fermoy. Meanwhile, in Dublin Jim Gavin’s squad have access to the best facilities and sports science that money can buy. You could make an excellent Rocky IV like montage from the dichotomy that exists between the two counties in terms of their preparation.

Saturday should serve as a starting point in this respect. Cork now know the level they need to get to, and the big take away should be that they aren’t actually that far away despite their current Division 3 status.

The game got away from them in those last ten minutes, but they were only three points behind at the hour mark. The 3-3 they conceded from there to the final whistle was a harsh reality check that the game goes well beyond the 70-minute mark these days.

The eventual thirteen point defeat must not be turned into a negative and used as proof that Cork needs to change tact the next day against Tyrone. The brave, attacking approach must be persisted with, as Cork do not look half the team when they try containing tactics.

One or two tweaks can certainly be made to shore up the defence. Individual errors can be cut out for starters, but again, that’s all part of the learning curve. 

The lesson also must be learned that if you over-commit too many players to attack and turn the ball over against the likes of Dublin and Tyrone then you are going to pay the consequences, so a balance must be struck when going forward.

In his post-match interview Cork manager Ronan McCarthy stated that the injured trio Sean Powter, Killian O’Hanlon and Eoghan McSweeney will all be available for selection for next weekend’s pivotal clash against Tyrone. All three were badly missed on Saturday evening. 

If O’Hanlon is fully recovered from the concussion he suffered against Laois then he should come straight back into the Cork engine room, while the other two may be saved for the last quarter. Powter’s pace and McSweeney’s long-range kicking ability could be crucial in those closing stages.

Castlehaven’s Michael Hurley is another player whose natural pace looked perfectly suited to Croke Park. McCarthy may be tempted to start him the next day, as Tyrone also operate a blanket defence, and pace is the best weapon to crack that open.

With Tyrone beating Roscommon in Dr Hyde Park on Saturday Cork know that a defeat will end any All-Ireland hopes. Tyrone will be strong favourites once more, especially considering that they beat Cork by 3-20 to 0–13 in last year’s championship, but if Cork approach the game with a similar approach to which they took on Dublin then they won’t be too far away.

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