'The key thing is that whoever we get in the qualifiers we'll feel we have the capability of beating them'

'The key thing is that whoever we get in the qualifiers we'll feel we have the capability of beating them'
Ronan McCarthy near the end of the game against Kerry. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

CORK have still yet to win a football game in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the sequence now stretching to six matches, four in the league and two in the championship.

Kerry’s Munster SFC-winning run is at seven, with Cork still waiting for a first provincial title since 2012 and the current streak of games without a win against the old enemy is also at seven, the joint-third-longest (the longest, by the way, is 17 between 1909 and 1943).

However, the outlook is considerably brighter than a year ago, when there were 17 points between the teams in the Munster final and Cork followed that with a 16-point reversal against Tyrone in the qualifiers.

This time round, there were positive noises. Despite relegation, the league had ended with two wins in the final three games, against Tipperary and Armagh, and running Donegal close in between.

Ahead of the championship opener against Limerick, there were a number of good performances in challenge games and then, after a 21-point hammering of the Shannonsiders, another heartening win against a Roscommon side that would go on to win the Connacht title.

Obviously, all the challenge matches in the world won’t count for anything unless they are backed up by a good display against Kerry but, despite the final outcome, Cork got that.

However, just as much of a positive was manager Ronan McCarthy’s assertion that coming close to a win shouldn’t be just accepted.

“If I say that that’s fine, I’m saying that it’s almost okay to lose the game,” he said.

“We came up believing we would win the game and have fallen short.

“You lose a game — I’ll gave an example, the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Kerry, which Kerry lost, even though they were beaten, they played with real honour.

“I felt our lads played with real honour tonight and spirit, but we have to regroup, learn from our mistakes, look forward to another big challenge.

“I’m sure we’re going to get another bumper team in the qualifiers but I’m looking forward to that.”

Pauk Kerrigan bursting through Kerry's Jack Barry and Jack Sherwood. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Pauk Kerrigan bursting through Kerry's Jack Barry and Jack Sherwood. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

When Brian Hurley’s goal drew Cork level, the Rebel faithful in the small crowd of 18,265 believed that the seemingly-impossible could become real.

While Kerry replied with two points to lead again, a red card for Paul Geaney suggested that the pendulum could swing Cork’s way again.

Kerry manager Peter Keane was certainly fearful of that. “There was 18,000 people,” he said, “but by Christ there was plenty of shouting going on for Cork at that stage and you could feel the momentum with them.”

Despite battling until the very end with herculean efforts from players like Ruairí Deane with Mark Collins continuing to send over points, Cork fell just short.

Even so, it wasn’t as if McCarthy felt he learned anything new about his side. “Not really, and I’m not being clever,” he said.

“Through the league, I kept telling people that the quality was there, the character was there, the application was there.

“I had no worries about Liam O’Donovan or Matty Taylor or these fellas, they absolutely live for it and they’re machines when it comes to physical fitness, two small men with big hearts.

“There were others, Loughrey and Kerrigan ran themselves into the ground but I’m not surprised by that, it was what I expected from them.

“I think Ruairí, and I’m not exaggerating, is heading in the direction where he’s in the top 10 players in the country.

“He’s heading in that direction and certainly could become top three. He has gone to another level, he had a good duel with Gavin White but as the game went on Ruairí came stronger and stronger into the game when we needed him.

“Again, it’s what I expect from him at this stage.”

The acid test for Cork will be as to how well they can react for the qualifiers.

A good showing against Kerry doesn’t guarantee it — in 2015, a draw in Killarney was followed by a replay loss before a limp exit against Kildare — but there is no reason to think Cork can’t respond.

Composure in front of goal is something to work on.

Mark Collins has his shot blocked by Kerry's Tadhg Morley. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Mark Collins has his shot blocked by Kerry's Tadhg Morley. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Even though Kerry did lead by 1-5 to 0-1 early on, it wasn’t a case of them blitzing Cork around the middle – chances were being created by the home side but they weren’t being capitalised upon.

“What I would say is I don’t look at individual games, I look at the period since we played Tipperary [in the league],” he said.

“We’ve played 10 matches, against Kerry, Galway, Dublin, Donegal and so on, and we’ve been consistent and competitive in all the games.

“The key thing in that is whoever we get in the draw, we feel we’ll have the capability of beating them.

“But we’ll have to gather ourselves again, get back in Monday for recovery, be back in Tuesday.

“We will have regrets, that’s part of the learning process but if we learn from that, I think we’ll be a handful for anyone, whoever we get in the qualifiers.”

As the game was going on last night, next door in the Marquee were the band One Day.

The challenge for Cork is to show now that there is more than just one day in terms of positive showings against top teams in this year’s championship campaign.

Reaching the Super 8s is a huge step for a number of reasons, not least the benefit of three more games. It’s imperative that Saturday night is a platform for something better.

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