THE hits keep on coming for Cork football.
After a fortnight of talks of crisis and must-win games and reactions needed, we just got another reminder of how deep the problems are right now in what it is becoming a desperately grim league campaign for Ronan McCarthy’s team.
Again Cork got taken apart by a more fluent, purposeful opposition as Meath controlled the flow of the game for long spells and in the basics, Cork huffed and puffed for 1-9 without ever really clicking into any rhythm in attack (the two main scorers ended with 0-3 from play) and the defence never looked comfortable dealing with Meath’s strong runners in giving up 2-12 in the end.
Division three football looks a real possibility in this unforgiving environment and every performance like this adds a little to the growing sense of darkness, where the jersey gets a little heavier each game and any sense of conviction or confidence gets lost.
It’s actually a tough watch right now, this struggle with a group being asked questions they don’t seem to have the answers for.
These aren’t fun times for anyone involved with Cork football.
Cork tried and tried but these lingering vulnerabilities were stronger in the end.
There was a spell in the second quarter where you see a hint of what they were trying to do, with Kevin Crowley driving forward and the middle third being encouraged to run hard with and without the ball (Eddie Kirwan was particularly vocal from the sideline in trying to keep the tempo high), and Cork got a couple of scores from little moments of individual play from Luke Connolly and Conor Dennehy.
It just wasn’t anywhere near enough and if there wasn’t any lack of effort, it’s hard otherwise to find anything that worked as Meath were simply more accomplished in all the basics – their tackling was more aggressive, their moving of ball in combinations was better, they were stronger in the collisions, their decision making was cleverer, they won all the breaks.
Meath worked as a unit more cohesively, hunted in packs, were rarely isolated in possession with support runners at good angles and in Cillian O’Sullivan, they had the most influential player on the field.
Cork were tentative in attack, lacked real penetration and didn’t break enough lines with or without the ball.
Ruairí Deane was inside full-forward for most of the first half but only got one high ball (and that was when he was outnumbered) and one other long kickpass.
Luke Connolly flickered, one great crossfield assist and one lovely point mixed with another kickpass out of play and some wides, and his confidence looked shot when he trudged off after getting the call midway through the second half.
Michael Hurley tried to make an impact and there was one play where he did really well to work a free-kick, only for Ian Maguire to immediately lob a pass right back on top of him with two men around him (Maguire to be fair was trying to work a position for a mark) and it summed up Cork’s lack of cohesion in trying to create scores.
Everything was just a little forced and there didn’t seem any natural movement between runners and kickpasses into space where you could locate an attacking pattern that was being worked on.
Too many times Cork made a pass just to the nearest player rather than the player in a better position which led to a lot of turnovers and there was no obvious ball-winning outlet in the attack for long spells of the second half especially.
Contrast say to how Meath worked their first goal, where they won possession over on the left sideline and immediately seemed to sense an overload of numbers, had a definite idea on how to work the position and then moved the ball at speed into the necessary area to create a simple goal.
Their execution of the skills was just better overall. If Cork started with a plan, by the middle of the second half certainly it was more than a little messy as Cork tried to chase the game.
Tactically, Cork tried to keep four forwards up with Paul Kerrigan inside his own 45 mostly and used as an outball for the goalkeeper and defence when possible but mostly Cork found it difficult to control the flow of the game or to get or keep their hands on enough ball for long spells.
The defence was overworked and if they didn’t suffer massively one-v-one, Meath seemed able to find runners to pop points or work positions in front of goal even when Cork had numbers back.
By the end, Cork were being turned over time and again to cheers from the away support (again Cork were probably outnumbered fanwise here, but that’s another story) and Meath seemed to be winning every break and coming out of every tackle with the ball.
It was that kind of night. The negativity cycle goes on and it’s just becoming a tough noise to ignore.
Sean Powter is back and gave a little cameo of what he’s capable of, one goal and another near miss the evidence of his potential explosiveness and genius. But Cork’s confidence and belief as a group in this project look desperately low.
It’s hard to locate any form lines in individual players that might shift the momentum and Cork need a win from anywhere to start to turn this around. More rough days and nights ahead.