Basically, Kerrigan would get the ball in some open space, take on a defender to work a yard of room to open up his legs, then the yard would become two and four and six and you could almost sense the opposition player wondering what in the world was going on and then suddenly, around the same time as the people watching, realising that this level of awesome speed was at a different level to anything he’d faced before.
I remember the first wow moment watching that happen in a game for Nemo and I saw it again and again with the Nemo seniors and Cork minors and U21s and eventually Cork seniors and though it became less common as defenders became more aware and experienced in the dangers, that thrill of seeing pure speed gliding across the pitch with the ball and opening up massive gaps against normally quite pacy defenders never went away.
We recalled the buzz and spark of that early period when rewatching the recent Tipp game this past week and thought of the ways that Kerrigan 2.0 is different from the player that exploded on the scene from say 2005 – 2010, how he’s developed differently than expected perhaps but developed nonetheless into a more influential footballer. Kerrigan played minor with forwards like John Hayes, Daniel Goulding, Paddy Kelly and Fintan Goold remember and outlasted them all for a variety of reasons.
If there tends to be a suggestion that those players who live on pure speed are more likely to fall away faster, that’s not been the case here. If he and Cork have benefitted from his adaptability in several roles, it’s quite likely his form has suffered a little too from a lot of positional tinkering and trying a little too hard to find the perfect spot for his skillset. Kerrigan has always had that incredible ability to float past a player and for a while nobody could really decide where on the pitch that might cause most damage, either out in the open spaces of the wings or closer to goals in the inside-forward line.
For example, that spell in 2014/2015 under Brian Cuthbert Kerrigan played as a kind of deep-lying counter-attack starter, sweeping up ball in around the centre-back position and then trying to beat players in areas of the field they weren’t quite used to being taken on to punch holes in teams. It worked intermittently but it was obvious, especially down in Killarney for Munster final 2015, that Kerrigan understood what he was meant to be doing and was intelligent enough to implement the thinking behind a very different position for him.
There’ve been criticisms of output levels in the past, that for all the decent areas of the field he worked himself into, scores and chances didn’t always follow, that he might beat one or two players but then run into traffic or take the wrong decision on the ball and get turned over. One intercounty defender at that time remarked he could be a little too easily guided out of games. It may be that we all forced things a little. Kerrigan seemed to try to do too much at times on the ball, to be a ballcarrier and creator and scorer. Yet he’s always been an influence. It was his run and shot that set up Dan Goulding’s goal against Tyrone in 2009.
His runs at important times that won frees against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi in 2010 and then contributed to a solid All-Ireland final. A consistent two or three scores a game through 2011/ 2012. Cork’s inability to string a set of performances together or reach an All-Ireland semi-final since has seen him take some of the brunt of things but it’s hard to remember any occasion where Kerrigan has stopped trying to make things happen and even on those awful collapse days it’s generally been Kerrigan attempting to being some spark to the attacking play. We can remember one of the Munster campaign games in 2014 where it seemed clear there were set instructions to play ball into spaces for Kerrigan and the other players just weren’t following the patterns while Kerrigan got more and more frustrated and isolated.
Tipp offered a chance for appreciation of this Paul Kerrigan that’s evolved. The willingness to take control of games – even in that loss in Thurles last year it was Kerrigan stepping up to create goals and score points late on that almost stole it.
In the second half last day it was Kerrigan who put himself into the positions to create chances and score and who took responsibility to take shots on at a time things weren’t working for Cork. A surge past tackles to make space for a shot over the bar early in the half. Then taking a pass from James Loughrey on the loop for a handy point, the sort of point he got very little when younger where it seemed he had to beat two men on the outside for every score. And the booming third, where he again made space for a shot in a position out on the right wing he could have easily just passed the buck on the shot. There’s still that potential to do something obviously out of the ordinary.
That goal v Donegal last year, smashed into the top corner on the run and the blitzing run and finish in Kerry the year before. Mostly though now it’s that cleverness learned, that knowledge on when to run the ball and where to pass it and where to run to pick off an easy shot. He can find spaces to turn up in an opposing defence to hurt them where before he might have got clogged up.
And still, the workrate, so that when Tipp were working a free man to shoot in the second half at one stage, it was Kerrigan who chased back and halted that shot happening. We mightn’t be getting as many wow moments but Kerrigan’s finding different, possibly more effective, ways to worry defences now.