Glass still half empty for many Rebel fans

Glass still half empty for many Rebel fans
Peter Kelleher of Cork in action against Michael Curry of Waterford. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Éamonn Murphy

Football

THE Cork footballers might be bookies’ favourites for what could be a season-defining showdown with Tipp, but you won’t find too many on Leeside agreeing with that assessment.

The negative thinking ahead of this Saturday’s clash at Páirc Uí Rinn is two-fold.

Firstly, Tipp had a fine league campaign on the back of a breakthrough summer of 2016, while Cork have been on a downward curve for some time.

Secondly, Rebel supporters are fearful a Munster final in the new-look Páirc will turn into a slaughter at the hands of Kerry — a la the farewell to the old stadium three years ago. The argument being would it not be better to take a chance in the qualifiers rather than bow the knee to the Kingdom?

This isn’t just a simple reaction to scraping past Waterford from the mix of hardcore fans, casual observers and cynics in Cork that have voiced their opinions lately, the footballers have failed to impress since they were cruelly denied the provincial title in 2015.

A one-point win over the Déise was understandably alarming, given they are a Division 4 outfit of limited ambition, but it’s about the bigger picture.

Cork haven’t caught too many breaks lately, from Fionn Fitzgerald’s long pass to the edge of the square that instead flew over the bar to snatch a draw for Kerry in that ’14 Munster final, to relegation from Division 1 on a tally of six points, and a Colm O’Neill missed free in this season’s league opener up in Galway that denied them a confidence-boosting victory and a road to promotion.

The core problems though aren’t down to bad luck. Up in Croker last year, Donegal were there for the taking but instead Cork let the initiative slip and made a hero of Paddy McBrearty, who shot seven points from play.

There’s no sense the footballers have a clear plan for short- and medium-term success. Peadar Healy’s first season could be written off as a transitional one, except for the fact only six of the starting line-up against Donegal took the field down in Waterford.

Allowing for a couple of injuries to Eoin Cadogan and Tom Clancy, the staggering nine changes highlights how unsettled Cork are.

The Cork hurlers haven’t delivered at minor or U21 in the modern era but injected youth into their line-up and reaped a rich reward last month. The U21 footballers have dominated in Munster this decade and reached last year’s All-Ireland final yet that talent isn’t flowing into the seniors.

From the 2016 U21s, only Stephen Cronin and Peter Kelleher started against Waterford. Alan O’Connor (31) and Donncha O’Connor (36) were instead key figures from the bench in surviving the Déise scare.

The footballers are forever damned by comparisons to their hurling counterparts, but where are the equivalents of Luke Meade and Shane Kingston?

The Barrs’ Stephen Sherlock, who is currently injured, Michael Hurley (Castlehaven), Cill na Martra’s Dan Ó Duinnín and Cian Dorgan, ultra-consistent for Ballincollig, are exciting young forwards you’d hope could still become established inter-county players.

In his interesting column for the Irish Examiner recently, Brian Hurley — such a loss through a career-threatening hamstring problem —wrote: “Turning potential into results is a challenge that excites us. True winners stay the course. They buy into a system and trust it. It takes time.”

Which is all fair enough.

However, since Conor Counihan departed Cork are onto their second manager, with a turnover in strength and conditioning coaches, and massive doubts over the direction they’re going under current boss Healy.

The scathing criticism the players and management have been subject to has hardly helped their confidence, but they’re neither playing with enough style nor grinding out the results to rally behind.

You take Cork City. It’s only this season that the shackles have come off and the goals have flowed, but in John Caulfield’s first three seasons, even with a more conservative approach, City were always ultra-competitive.

Fans will forgive a lot when their team is winning. Munster didn’t exactly rip it up in every game when they were landing two European Cups. They did though, get the job done when it mattered.

Maybe Cork will do exactly that against Tipp.

The Premier had the surprise factor last year and are shorn of suspended keeper Evan Comerford and midfielder Peter Acheson who is abroad.

Cork are at home and surely capable of channelling the endless barbs into a massive display.

On The Sunday Game, Tomás Ó Sé didn’t hold back: “They look like a herd of sheep going into a field for the first time and cutting loose around the place.”

This weekend offers the perfect opportunity to start proving everyone wrong, but it’s hard to know if even Cork themselves believe they can.

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