Questions remain but spirit raises a bit of hope

Questions remain but spirit raises a bit of hope
Cork manager Peadar Healy with his players after. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

The Barry O'Donovan football column

THAT'LL do for now. 

If Cork football as a basic concept was being ripped to pieces at half-time and this Cork football project looked to have been sucker-punched by Conor Sweeney with minutes to go, Luke Connolly’s goal has managed to alter that dynamic, giving Cork the sort of win they probably didn’t want to go through but that they really needed. 

We expected a reaction after Waterford but it took another desperate, flat, fearful first-half performance lacking in basically everything to spark the kind of nothing-to-lose intensity that changed the match. Cork brought in legs, ran hard and with purpose, passed a gut-check, worked the adrenaline shot of a late comeback goal, closed out a tight game, grabbed the feelgood from beating Tipp and managed to get the fans back onside in that tense final ten minutes. You could tell by the reaction of the players throughout that second half and at the final whistle that this meant a lot.

More than providing definitive answers though, the game generally dragged us further into the murkiness of the what’s-up-with-Cork questions. The first half gave a decent indication of the awfulness that can happen when Cork aren’t at it – players running isolated into crowded spaces or into tackles and losing possession, slow and indecisive movement of ball, lack of conviction to taking of chances (again O’Neill and Kerrigan missed goal chances and some of the wides were just weak), a kind of paralysis on the ball through lack of confidence. 

Cork played a sweeper with the wind and allowed Tipp handy possession. The game itself was scrappy and slow, both teams found it difficult to find spaces in the scoring areas. Yet Tipp were more composed and more in control of the ball mostly; just before half-time one of the Tipp management provided a countdown of the seconds for Tipp to hold possession and they were comfortable enough to do just that.

The second half turnaround wasn’t quite from creating chaos but it did arise mainly out of Cork just basically committing bodies up the pitch and completely going for it. Tipp weren’t allowed settle on the ball and started to get turned over – Ian Maguire made one particularly big statement possession rob at one stage and Kevin Crowley executed a perfect defensive tackle to regain the ball another. Tipp weren’t allowed get the ball out short from kick-outs easily anymore and everything that went long was gobbled up by Ian Maguire especially. 

Mark Collins of Cork in action against Jason Lonergan of Tipperary. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Mark Collins of Cork in action against Jason Lonergan of Tipperary. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Cork ran hard with and without the ball for the first time, started to find those little gaps down the sides of Tipp’s defence and then basically just went with the flow. Players took shots and passes on without overthinking. Sean Powter carried to create a Kerrigan score, John O’Rourke broke a tackle for Donncha O’Connor’s point, Loughrey broke the line for Kerrigan, Mark Collins ran beyond the ball to take a return pass for his own score, Kevin Crowley carried long and broke a tackle for Barry O’Driscoll’s score – all scores created by Cork runners overloading and taking Tipp defensive players out of the game. 

In one great moment as the second half wore on, a Tipp player clipped a pass down the line for a teammate in a race with Sean Powter (the Tipp player obviously isn’t stacked with speed info on Cork footballers but it wasn’t a good decision); the Douglas flyer won the race easily, turned with the ball and played a few one-twos with the almost-as-speedy Michael Hurley to win a pointed free in front of the posts. It was an arrival sort of moment for Powter and it gave a reminder of the potential of sheer youthful pace. 

Even the match/season-changing goal came from Cork running the ball directly up the field, though Loughrey and Collins mainly, and owed more to a willingness to just commit to a hard run than any great intricate movement or thought. On Friday we wondered how Cork might react to a Tipp goal at the wrong moment; we got a pretty impressive response and that response was probably the most pleasing aspect Cork players and management can take away. Players stepped up. 

Mark Collins probably hasn’t had a more effective 20 minutes for Cork. Kevin Crowley announced himself. James Loughrey, more a sweeper in the first half, could hardly have attacked more in the second half. Paul Kerrigan led the attack with conviction second half and again influenced hugely with three points from play.

It wasn’t the sort of win that clears all doubts. The first half can’t be airbrushed because of the second half, especially not when it follows a pattern. It’s possible that Tipp may have been vulnerable anyway, with Quinlivan and their best midfielder gone by the time Cork clicked and Kerry will have far more firepower to take advantage of any similar Cork dozes. 

There are questions on why the set up of the team seemed wrong at the start, why some individual’s roles just didn’t work and why the tempo of play was just so off. Colm O’Neill again ended without a score from play. 

But Cork will surely take something from the knowledge that there is this performance level in the tank, that when the season looked to be drifting away they were capable of turning a match around with legs and direct running and willingness to take off the shackles and individuals putting their hands up. Cork located a solution and found some life in Cork football yet. 

Three weeks left to learn new tricks.

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