IN previous years we said league campaigns allow us to see where Cork stand more clearly, but that doesn’t seem as relevant now we are fairly certain.
Instead, it’s more about how well Cork can fix some recurring faults here.
One, a defence that looked naively open against Kerry and just lacking any sense of what a defence was meant to do against Tyrone needs obvious work. Individually, Cork could do with finding at least one man-marker (especially with Jamie O’Sullivan also gone) and as a group they’ll need to shut up shop more effectively.
The biggest test they received in last year’s league was Michael Quinlivan and Liam McGrath on opening night and the result was a sign of things to come – 3-16 coughed up.
Cork can’t make progress without cutting this habit of letting big scores in (more than 20 points far too often) so we can expect more bodies with more defined jobs and more aggressive defending this time surely.
The big two in the group will be a challenge to measure the effectiveness of any new focus.
Two, can Cork find enough scores around the field to replace Colm O’Neill?
There were times in the last few years where O’Neill created scores from situations only he could have made or used his goal instinct to sniff a chance and the thought occurred what Cork might do when he was gone; now we’ll find out and it’ll be the first season without a possibility of Donncha as well.
Luke Connolly looked awesome in Thurles until he got lost in Cork’s malfunctions afterwards, has more ability than anyone else and looks most likely to step in chief scorer shoes and end up with nine or 10 points. We continue to watch Brian Hurley’s comeback with interest to see the potential there.
Ronan McCarthy mentioned himself the need to change something and the fact he’s brought in coaching help suggests an evolution of ideas at least.
Cork weren’t entirely without defensive plans in 2018 – the middle eight generally moved back and forwards into the spaces as necessary and Stephen Cronin performed a sweeper role at various times for the summer.
It’s just that there didn’t seem complete conviction in any definite style against Kerry or Tyrone and it seems to make sense that Cork will look to nail down a proper structure in this league campaign. It’s more likely surely that this will be more defensive than a step towards more open attacking.
Paul Kerrigan has already mentioned the defensive work/increased awareness and there seemed to be more defensive-type players in the McGrath Cup.
It’s hardly rocket science to point out Cork can’t keep conceding huge scores.
Some counties have developed very obvious defensive systems (Ulster teams especially) so watch for whether Cork try and fill zones inside their 45 when the opposition have the ball.
Look out perhaps for kick-out strategies too in Mark White’s second year.
More or less everyone has something to prove in some way and there are definite roles that need filling. It’ll be interesting to see for example if Ruairí Deane can take up the phenomenal form where he left off and if Ian Maguire can make another step up after his season with the Barrs. Sean Powter will be a genuine gamechanger if and when available.
Players like Sean White and Steven Sherlock and Cian Kiely have another year of experience to become influential game-breakers and seeing how far Mark White can go ought to be fun. A rookie or two would be welcomed, let’s say if Liam O’Donovan or Kevin O’Donovan slotted into a role with fresh energy.
Promotion looks a tough ask first off, so as much as commentary tends towards making this a number one priority, well that might not be realistic here just yet. Kildare and Donegal both look further along than this Cork side, especially with the experience of last year’s super eights, and will present real challenges for Cork to pick up home wins. Tipp will be looking to make a statement after last summer. Clare feel they’ve got Cork’s measure now.
See how tough this might be to pick up points? This might be a league based on development more than results, where how Cork learn to cope with Donegal’s style of play or Kildare’s physicality could make more of an impact medium-term. An early defeat or two could make this a negative experience but Cork will be looking to build some momentum. Best case scenario is getting a run at promotion of course but Cork would probably take three/four wins, no disaster and a sense of progress right now.
Let’s just say Cork haven’t been an easy side to follow these past few years, too many grim non-shows and not enough enjoyable days out. The mention of creating a buzz around Cork football again seems fanciful right now but we’ve been to Newbridge and Salthill and other county grounds and it’s always striking the different vibes that other county supporters bring to home games with noise and an atmosphere and general positivity. There’ve been games in Páirc Uí Rinn against Ulster/Connacht counties where the noise greeting away scores is more than the home scores.
Cork need to change the conversation now to a place where people want to watch and go to games again, where the interest levels are more about excitement than some form of curiosity on how bad things are. A few wins can do wonders for everybody’s form. Cork would prefer to have more answers than questions by April.