WHEN their platoon of critics take aim, a lack of leadership in the Cork football team is usually one of the first missiles they launch.
Just this week former Kerry footballer Marc Ó Sé made that very point when asked about the Rebels' disappointing displays in scraping past Waterford and Tipp in recent weeks.
“It doesn’t seem as if there’s any leadership coming from anywhere except the senior players. Paul Kerrigan, he’s really led, Donncha O’Connor as well, but they’re not going to be around forever,” said Ó Sé.
“I always feel if you could have two players coming through every year... the U21s, have they won 10 out of the last 14 (in Munster)? So they have to have the talent...
"They don’t seem to be getting the most out of them. They obviously aren’t and I don’t know why that is.
“But it has to come from the top down, from the manager down, and it doesn’t appear that’s happening. You’re looking at them and the way they’re setting up, they’re not even able to deal with blanket defences. It just doesn’t seem as if there’s any leadership coming at all.”
Nothing the ex-Kingdom corner-back said was controversial nor would too many here on Leeside disagree with him. What was interesting was that Ó Sé exonerated Paul Kerrigan from blame.
In his outstanding weekly column in the Irish Examiner, Kieran Shannon – who as a highly-regarded sports psychologist as well as journalist knows about these things – wrote, under the headline 'When Rebels searched for a leader, Kerrigan stepped up' about the Nemo man's qualities.
“It's become almost an article of faith to say about the Cork footballers that they have no leaders but as much as they could always do with more it's wrong to say they have none. In Kerrigan, their captain, they unmistakably have one.”
Shannon's not wrong. As he detailed in the piece, Kerrigan, and Donncha O'Connor, have enough won to justify slipping off into retirement yet they keep fighting the good fight.
When he was a minor, Kerrigan was often viewed as a luxury player. His blistering pace made him a serious attacking threat, even if he could be gulity of over-carrying possession. He matured in winning the 2007 U21 All-Ireland and then an historic Sigerson with CIT.
By the time Cork lifted the 2010 All-Ireland Kerrigan was a vital cog up front but some of his greatest achievements were away from the bright lights. Injuries derailed the Rebels' defence of Sam but he was electric against Kerry, Down and Mayo in 2011. Cork crashed out of the qualifiers in 2015 but Kerrigan inspired Nemo to a first county in five seasons.
He's as blunt a talker off the pitch as he's a direct runner on it. In an insightful interview with RedFM's The Big Red Bench he conceded – while clearly fed up with the constant sniping the footballers endure – that Cork need to start inspiring the supporters before they'll be inspired by them.
“In fairness to the crowd (against Tipp) they were waiting for us to kick on and they were right to be impatient. It's up to us to give them something to shout about. Once the goal went in the crowd erupted. Once we threw off the shackles they backed us.
“We've to play with a bit of heart and passion like we did in the second half against Tipp and if we do that against Kerry they'll get behind us.
“Up to a couple of weeks ago the hurlers hadn't won either and it was there on both teams. A lot of people would text you and say 'keep the head up, keep it going'. There is a lot of criticism out there but Cork have high standards. You see the way the soccer team are going, the hurlers, Munster rugby, Cork Con, you're expected to be competing and winning in everything.”
Even if the doom-mongers, many of them from over the border, have taken great pleasure in Cork's woes, Kerrigan told the Big Red Bench the best answer the footballers can give them is by winning.
“Kerry have a monopoly on the sports writing and on the telly so it kinda suits them to have a cut off us all the time! Look they're the form team in the country, they dethroned Dublin, the only team to beat them. We need no motivation.
“People can criticise all they want. Motivation is different for every fella and for me it's to put in a good performance for the team, for others it might be to prove people wrong.”
Yet an extremely patchy league, on the back of an underwhelming 2016 under Peadar Healy's management, has everyone wondering what exactly is going wrong with the footballers.
“We're 100% happy. We've so much in place for us. It's something we speak about together. They can't kick the ball over the bar, they can't stop the ball, they can't take Ken's kick-outs. Peadar is an All-Ireland winning coach. We've sports psychologists, nutritionists, our strength and conditioning fella works with Olympians. We have it all in place it's just putting it out on the field. We can do it for patches but we haven't done it consistently.
"Look we're in a Munster final so we have to go out and try to win it, put in a performance. Last year we'd so many injuries but this year we've 35 players and 34 of them were fit to tog out against Tipp."
Why then did were Cork so frustrating last Saturday, as they had been in Dungarvan?
"Our execution, our handling and unforced errors, were so bad in the first half, and it's something we work hard on with Eamonn Ryan. A big thing is our conversion rate because we're creating so many chances. If we could just get that up to 50% our scores would be so different.
"Waterford literally put their top scorer in the league back in front of our goal. They'd 15 behind the ball and we still came out with a win. If a team plays someone up a couple of divisions they're putting 15 behind the ball."
Kerry will be far more proactive and in many ways, especially with the return to Páirc Uí Chaoimh postponed, there will be less pressure in Killarney. It's over to Kerrigan and Cork to at least deliver a performance.