AT one stage of the first half in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Cavan moved the ball around the pitch through various runners for what seemed like a couple of minutes of unbroken and more or less unopposed possession.
It ended with their extremely influential number ten Dara McVeety breaking through the Cork defence to create another score, Cork selector Ciaran O’Sullivan came on the field to give a few pointers to individual players and the thought occurred even at that stage that it was going to be a tough ask to fix these problems with a few words.
It ended up one of those days and if we’d warned to expect this group to lose as easily as win games at this stage of development, then this still felt a dispiriting afternoon, an alarming lack of performance that Ronan McCarthy wouldn’t have seen coming.
There were the usual murmurings about the contrast with Nemo the previous day and if the difference in how Nemo owned the big stage against top club teams in the country was striking, it doesn’t feel a correct comparison. Sort of like wondering why England didn’t compete for World Cups or Euros when Man Utd were competing for and winning Champions leagues — a completely different culture of mentality and traditions.
Cavan showed up in the Páirc and made the game theirs, played at their pace, controlled the flow of the game for long, long spells of handpassing and were just generally more able to open up Cork’s defence and close off Cork’s attack.
Ronan McCarthy will find positives hard to locate from a game where Cork were terribly flat, unable to engage with Cavan or make them uncomfortable for any consistent time.
They lacked ideas on how to get into the game and the management will be especially cross with the sloppiness on some basics – Cork got pulled for picking the ball off the ground several times, hacked shots wide from bad positions, got caught taking balls from standing and turned over, took the ball into groups of Cavan tacklers and just generally got decision and executions wrong more often than right.
They took four players off at half-time and changed almost every line on the pitch to find something different.
Cavan surrounded Colm O’Neill with three bodies every time he got the ball — he ended up with nothing from play — and there was little or no combinations from Cork with the ball in Cavan’s half beyond individual runners trying to make ground.
Cork got one score in the entire game that had a real pattern to it, Mark Collins with a diagonal kick-pass to Colm O’Neill who found Sean White making a hard run in support and the Clon man fired over.
White was again the most likely to make anything happen, kicked two points by running in support, set up another few shots at goal with his kick-passing and just looked like he knew what he was trying to do with the ball.
Apart from that, Cork found it difficult to get Mark Collins into the game often enough and there seemed a lack of shape in attack overall. In the first half, Cork couldn’t seem to link play between defence and attack and lacked any out-ball or natural forward runner between half-back and half-forward.
For one play Brian O’Driscoll soloed out the left wing and when he looked up for a kick-pass option there was a huge gap to the full-forward line and he got isolated and turned over.
Cork went man-v-man all over the pitch but it’s hard to recall them laying a hand or tackle on a Cavan player in possession and the overriding flow of the opening 35 minutes consisted of Cavan moving the ball up and down and across the pitch for long periods until they worked the ball in a shooting position.
Cork struggled to get close enough to Cavan, and when they did win the ball, tended to be so out of shape that they couldn’t work the ball through the middle third with any coherence.
By the second half, Cavan had pulled everyone back into their own half to fill spaces and Cork couldn’t quite find their way through that either as Cavan picked them off on the counter-attack whenever Cork looked to be making any comeback.
Cork didn’t lack for effort in a second-half response and Stephen Sherlock nipped two tidy scores from play but the decision making on the ball didn’t necessarily improve a lot — there were some wild kicks for goal and then other positions where it looked they could have kicked scores but ran into bodies instead — and there was never really a feeling that they were controlling the rhythm of the game and were likely to get something from this.
This is where Cork are now.
Promotion seems a long way off after another loss (and another defeat in the Páirc too, which hopefully doesn’t become an issue) and more unsettling perhaps was the non-performance this time.
This wasn’t quite elite level but Cavan seemed more sure of themselves.
The road back hasn’t gotten any shorter.