IT IS only March since many were predicting doom for the Cork footballers with their Division 2 struggles whereas Kerry’s new wave of talent was heading to the Division 1 league final.
In the meantime Cork have shown positive consistency from the last few games of the league right through to the whitewash of Limerick. Granted some of those games were challenges but never the less it can stand to this group.
Kerry made things very difficult for themselves on a wet night in Ennis three weeks ago. Any other year you wouldn’t be taking too much notice.
The present Clare team have the ability to put a run of scores together against many top teams while in recent years Kerry have left many semi-finals with much to improve on. The difference this year is Kerry have a pretty new team, and goalkeeper in Shane Ryan.
In addition James O’Donoghue and Sean O’Shea picked up injuries in Ennis, plus other key players David Moran, Jack Barry and Paul Murphy have been out. It’s hard to perform optimally at this level if you haven’t enough hard yards behind you.
You could see last Sunday for example how Galway’s Peter Cooke appeared rusty at midfield after an extended lay-off. Now we are not privy to what is happening behind closed doors but I’m sure Peter Keane would prefer a cleaner bill of health.
Cork started well last year but once Kerry converted a sequence of scores the energy and belief drifted from them. The challenge come Saturday is not necessarily just about starting well but rather how the Cork teams responds if Kerry get a goal or a few quick points in succession.
It’s a crucial part of any team to stick the game-plan and focus on the next ball. As the sports psychologist would term ‘stick to the process’. It’s been surprising to see how two perceived All-Ireland contenders Tyrone and Galway struggled with this.
There were too many sloppy mistakes all over the field, both on and off the ball. This leads to the concession of easy scores, momentum going to the opposition and consequently the game.
As a side issue it’s been interesting to see Galway been criticised for their supposedly negative style under Kevin Walsh, which is contrast to their traditional kick-passing game.
In the second last Sunday ironically it was turnovers from Galway’s kick passes from their own half, which contributed, to handing the initiative to Roscommon. The two occasions when Galway strung a series of passes together, a Shane Walsh attempt hit the post while Michael Daly scored an excellent point.
Ruairí Deane is becoming a leader and talisman for this Cork team. Initially things didn’t go as well as he would have liked at senior but he responded the right way putting in extra work and taking his game to another level. The challenge now is how he responds when getting more man-marking attention.
Cork will hope to isolate Deane in one-on-one scenarios to break holes in the Kerry rearguard. This was another example of a place where Roscommon made gains last Sunday.
Kevin Walsh made the decision to station Shane Walsh at 14 with the wind in the second half. As a consequence though, inside forward Ian Burke had to do a lot more defensive-tracking which is not his normal game.
Twice in that opening 10 minutes the athletic Enda Smith got away from Ian Burke, which led to two Roscommon points. You see this in rugby all the time where a back is encouraged to attack with the ball in hand if they are lined up against an opposing forward. Identifying the weakness in the defensive line is key.
Kerry have their own direct runner in Stephen O’Brien. He has posed Cork many problems in recent years and there must be certainty on who is picking him up when Kerry attack. Any indecision here and O’Brien will pick holes all day in the Cork rearguard.
Similar to last year you would feel Kerry will look to unsettle the Cork backs early on, Peter Keane will have his homework done on Corks kick-out. The Kerry forwards will aim to pin the Cork backs in their own half, delay the attacking transition and force a few early turnovers.
Whatever way Cork set up, you would expect some extra defensive cover will be involved. In the league this year they would have had one or two sweepers depending on the opposition. It is easier to do this when you are playing against teams who automatically set up defensively.
It’s not so easy against Kerry who will set up with three dangerous inside forwards, even with James O’Donoghue out. Cork will need to be positive and really go at Kerry. Never the less Cork’s defensive performance will dictate whether Cork have an opportunity to win the game.
Nathan Walsh and Liam O’Donovan are two newcomers, players who showed potential with last year’s Cork U20 team. They obviously have done well in recent training and games to get this opportunity and playing in the Munster final is the next challenge in their development. They must bring the learnings and confidence gained over the last few months.
There has been many surprises this year in the championship so far. Could this be another?
I still expect Kerry to win with a few points to spare. Cork can bring intensity and keep a clean sheet to the early stages and ask serious questions of Kerry.