CORK ended the summer chasing a game they’d lost control of and couldn’t find quite enough to win; that’s probably about right in the end.
Again Cork put themselves in a decent position with 20 minutes to go here but just lacked that game management that Ronan McCarthy has referenced and when the game became a dogfight in the middle of the second half, Roscommon just had more smarts in the rucks that developed and worked possession a little bit better to find the scores that changed the flow of the game at that vital time.
It was an odd kind of occasion – that feeling of celebration from the U20s mixed with the weather and lack of meaningful edge that made it seem like a league game at times – and Cork just never quite clicked into the full-on conviction of previous games. Cork aren’t at that developmental stage where they’ll get away not being fully at it and Roscommon had the experience to take advantage. A team let’s not forget that beat Galway and Mayo this year.
They will add it to the list of regrets from this Super 8s that have promised an awful lot and delivered a pile of learning and know-how but no points now, the difference that ought to be there at this elite level. It’d be pushing things to say reality check but there was a sense of how much work there is in winning games against the better counties and the realisation that Cork haven’t managed to do that yet.
If we’re being harsh here, there were weaknesses exposed a little again. Attacking a mass defence on a wet sticky day isn’t ideal but still there was an absence of clinical finishing, with varying degrees of sloppy handling and not great decision making with linking passes in the scoring zone.
The scoring return wasn’t enough from the inside line again – no points from play and the three goals came from one intercepted kick-out, a shot dropped short and a break upfield by the full-back – and decent positions were lost where they needed to be taken.
It wasn’t a major malfunction but just little things that didn’t come off – Mark Collins had a shot wide and a pass intercepted, Kevin O’Driscoll and Eoghan McSweeney had passes cut off, Michael Hurley couldn’t gather a ball, Paul Kerrigan fumbled in a good position, all small details that add up to swing a game.
It was the same in defence, no systems breakdown but tiny lapses that made the difference. The four goals conceded here means 11 goals in three games from the Super 8s and again there was an issue with runners creating overloads to open up the Cork defence.
Goal one looked a little like Cork had got into position for a short kick-out and when Micheál Martin belted it long, the defenders never got set again and Roscommon were able to find free players to move the ball through the lines. Goal two was a long, long spell of possession for Roscommon and still Cork eventually switched off to allow a man loose to work a one-two inside Cork’s 21 and get in on Cork’s goalkeeper.
Goal three was a runner from deep creating an extra man. Goal four again came from Roscommon working the ball up the field through the lines always able to create an overlap until they got in on goal.
Cork rarely looked vulnerable in one-v-one situations defensively but there’s work to do on the concentration levels necessary against a team who will hold possession patiently to eventually find a free player. Most of Roscommon’s first-half scores actually came from runners getting fouled as well.
It’ll be on Ronan McCarthy’s end-of-year review list for sure.
Cork have come an awful long way in the conditioning and collisions and it’s difficult to know if these last quarter fadeouts are a sign that there’s catch-up work to be done still or if the concentration levels on decision making just hasn’t grown to last the entire match yet.
The pity is there was plenty to build on too. Luke Connolly showed the spark and threat in the opening half, involved in almost everything really that Cork produced. He kicked three tough frees from distance and punched a goal, was alive to that early Roscommon kick-out to work Mark Collins’ goal and assisted another score with a great crossfield pass to Kevin O’Driscoll, who by the way pulled off an absolute banger of a roll and strike for the point.
There was some clever working of ball into positions – Kerrigan’s pass to put Connolly in on goal was wonderful and a goal there might be changed the game. The middle eight again worked really hard in shuttling possession and trying to force turnovers and the defence was aggressive in contact when possible.
Even the response of James Loughrey’s goal in the second half was impressive, the intent again to drive up the pitch to actively create a gap was Cork at their most purposeful. It’s just that as the game got scratchy – and boy it lacked rhythm for long spells second half especially – it was Roscommon who were able to adapt and control the game and find the big plays, Enda and Donie Smith particularly influential, at the big times.
The crowd stuck with Cork till the end and if we didn’t get that momentum kick of the win exactly, there was still the feeling that this has been a few steps forward rather than step back.
Cork know where they are and know where they’re going, which we haven’t been able to say for a while.