CLUB final week always seems to return to Nemo Rangers.
If we’re not looking at their chances of winning it, we’re thinking about times they have, and their spectacularly remarkable record of turning county titles into All-Ireland final appearances and wins.
Cork’s last men’s senior club All-Ireland is 16 years ago this week and it’s impossible to look back at that win, over Crossmolina, without a few things coming to mind.
Firstly, it may in fact be that their history of winning has been slightly undervalued here in Cork, that the simple figure of seven All-Ireland titles brought back to Capwell, often during long periods when other counties were totally dominant at inter-county level, has been taken for granted, or that some of the inevitable losses have clouded their achievements.
Second, they really did have some forwards over the years, which the brilliant Nemo archive Twitter account has brought to statistical life, throwing out figures like the 19-130 total scored by Joe Kavanagh in championship action. That seems impressive enough until you compare it to the 18-308 by James Masters, or the record, 40-243 by Dinny Allen.
And there’s that epic point near the end of that Crossmolina game, Colin Corkery’s (19-372, by the way) ingenious score, which signified the end of a journey for that team and also counts as perhaps one of the great long-range scores at Croke Park.
Watching it back now is still thrilling, partly because of the pure skill (that distance under pressure), pure mentality (he’d missed a fair bit before that kick), the timing, and also simply because we don’t seem to see these type of scores as often (you can more or less remember the standout scores from distance in the last decade or so).
There’s a point about the evolution of the game here. Possession has become king such that teams are not really willing to take on a low-percentage shot from distance.
Dublin didn’t take a shot outside the 45 from play in the entire championship last season and are essentially a keep-ball team, until they can find a little space inside the D, directly in front of goal, when possible. Tyrone are a working-the-ball-into-the-shooting-zone team, also.
Teams have long passages of possession in the vicinity of the opposition 45, but there’s a tendency to try and punch holes with runners rather than work the ball to somebody who might be able to take a pop at goal.
It’s partly unwillingness to be the one who takes responsibility and partly a sort of snowball effect, with the lack of long-range shooting opportunity resulting in a lost skill: If players in that middle eight aren’t going to be shooting from distance, then teams won’t use or develop players who have that in their locker.
And the cycle goes on, as half-backs and midfielders and half-forwards turn more into players who can run up and down, rather than necessarily being able to kick the ball over the bar from more than 30 metres.
Cork hasn’t been the most progressive, recently, in developing players who can do this, either — players like Aidan Walsh and Brian O’Driscoll, who had that natural range from outside, were never quite trusted or given the tools on how, and when, to use that ability and the talent eventually sort of fizzled out.
And yet, there’s an alternative idea, surely. There’s little in the game as impressive as a player opening his body and launching a ball, from way out, that drops over the bar and it can be found if you look hard enough. Think Niall Morgan’s kick against Roscommon, earlier in the league. Brian Fenton has lobbed some huge points from distance.
In Tipp’, a fortnight ago, Eoghan McSweeney scored for Cork from outside the 45 (wind-assisted, to be fair) and there was a kind of murmur in the crowd, where it took a second or two to realise a player could still do that and then recognise the simple effectiveness of it.
There genuinely is no more effective way of beating a mass defence and if Gaelic football, and pretty much every ball game, really, has become an effort to find spaces on a field that’s more easily congested than ever, the unexplored scoring spaces might be further from goal.
Working the ball cleverly into better areas for shooting is, of course, the whole idea and it is called the scoring zone for a reason (nobody really wants blind potshots from crazy places), but there are arguments to at least encourage the idea that having players in that middle third who can kick points isn’t a complete waste of time.
It may need a little tweaking to the risk/reward outcomes here. There’s a lot of talk about a movement to four points for a goal in hurling, especially where scoring points from distance has become a little easier than it ought to be, but that’s unlikely to transfer to football, where a four-point goal would likely increase the defensive thinking of not conceding a game-changing score.
A two-point score for kicks outside a 45 arc might be worth a look, though the appetite is low for constant rule changes akin to how the three-pointer amended how teams attacked and tried to score in basketball.
A player from the middle eight, able to bomb scores over from distance, then becomes pretty useful.
Opposition have to push 10 metres up and space is created in front of the full-forward lines. It just might switch the dynamic in how teams attack and give an extra value to a team that can develop players willing and able to shoot accurately from distance.
It might just give us more chances to see points like Colin Corkery’s. That can only be a good thing.