ONE swallow certainly does not make a summer, but a modicum of goodwill and confidence seeped back into Cork football last weekend following their 1-19 to 3-10 defeat at the hands of Kerry in the Munster final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
The doom and gloom has been lifted, with supporters throughout the county praying that the upturn is not a temporary one. Suddenly the Super 8s are being eyed nervously, like a young bird eager to leap from the nest, but afraid of coming a-cropper.
Ronan McCarthy’s side are now just one win away from qualifying for the Super 8s for the first time. A win, and qualification, would guarantee Cork a first championship appearance in Croke Park since losing to Donegal in a qualifier tie in 2016 by 0-21 to 1-15.
That match occurred only three short years ago, yet only Ian Maguire, Tomás Clancy, Mark Collins and Paul Kerrigan started that game and last weekend’s Munster football final. That fact alone shows how much has changed in Cork football in recent times.
Sure, injuries robbed McCarthy of another few who played that day, such as Sean Powter and Tom Clancy, while Stephen Cronin and Michael Hurley came off the bench on Saturday, and started that match against Donegal, but you get the picture.
There was nearly more current Cork hurlers playing that day than current Cork footballers – as both Cadogan brothers and Aidan Walsh played.
A really good habit that Cork have displayed in the championship so far is their ability to create goal chances. They have scored three goals in each of their two championship encounters to date, against Limerick and Kerry, but they also left a number of goal scoring chances behind them against the Kingdom. But, at least they are creating them.
These goal chances are not being created by accident either. Ronan McCarthy has set his side up as a running team, with no real point shooters in the vein of Daniel Goulding, Colm O’Neill or Donnacha O’Connor playing inside. Therefore it stands to reason that Cork are more likely to run through teams if their forwards aren’t arcing over points from range.
If Cork are to progress to the Super 8s then you would imagine that they will need to keep raising green flags, as Cork continue to struggle to wrack up big points totals in matches.
In their Allianz National Football League campaign this year, which of course ended with relegation to Division 3, Cork only managed to raise more than ten white flags on two occasions, with these coming in the victory over Tipperary and the defeat to Donegal, when they scored twelve points in both of these games.
They again failed to register over ten points last Saturday, so that trend is continuing. Those aforementioned attackers are badly missed at present. They used to make point scoring look so easy. Currently, Cork have to work extremely hard for their points. Possibly too hard.
The return of Knocknagree’s Eoghan McSweeney to the half-forward line would improve Cork’s point kicking options, and the evidence from the closing quarter would suggest that this is certainly an area that needs improving, as Michael Hurley, Paul Kerrigan, Matthew Taylor and Mark Collins all missed scoreable opportunities when the game was there for the taking.
So, those lack of scores could come back to haunt Cork in their pursuit of a Super 8 spot, although the draw for Round 3 of the qualifiers has been kind. One of Mayo and Armagh were gone this weekend, while either Kildare or Tyrone will also be exiting stage left.
That’s two big dangers gone from a Cork perspective. One of Laois or Offaly will be in the Round 4 hat, while either Westmeath or Clare will also be there. These are sides that should not scare this Cork team.
It has been a tough few years for Cork football. They could certainly do with a bit of luck when that draw is made.
The Super 8s would be a wonderful experience for young players like Nathan Walsh, Liam O’Donovan, Matthew Taylor, Killian O’Hanlon and McSweeney. Cork might not necessarily harbour realistic ambitions of dethroning Dublin at present, but if they are to have such ambitions someday then they have to start somewhere.
It is difficult to see who can stop Dublin at the moment. Donegal maybe. Kerry perhaps. Mayo, at a stretch. Cork aren’t there yet, but in time the goal has to be to get to the top table once more.
Historically Cork would have viewed themselves as one of the few counties who could stop any side on their day. The seven senior football All-Irelands show that Cork are one of the great underachievers in Gaelic football, but they have always been there or thereabouts.
It would seem a bridge too far at present, though, to think that it might be Cork who could foil Dublin’s five in a row bid. It is wishful thinking to imagine someone like Michael Hurley being sprung, Seamus Darby like from the bench, and burying the goal that stops the drive for five, but that’s all it is, wishful thinking.
Cork have a long journey to negotiate before they can have such lofty ambitions once more.
In saying that, to go from being relegated to Division 3 in the league to qualifying for the Super 8s a few short months later.
Now that would be something to cheer about.