After such a poor display against Kerry, Cork football is on the road to nowhere

After such a poor display against Kerry, Cork football is on the road to nowhere
Cork manager Peadar Healy with selectors Eamonn Ryan and Billy Sheehan at half-time against Kerry in the Munster SFC final at Fitzgerald stadium, Killarney. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

THE Munster final performance was exactly why the Cork footballers get such stick.

It was an honest but totally uninspiring effort from a group that either don’t have the ability or the confidence to cut it with the best. It was a tame, lopsided game that rarely looked like an actual contest between equals.

Simply put: Kerry retained their Munster title pulling up. A damning indictment of Cork football. 

And while the natives bemoaned the absence of Cork last summer in Killarney when they defeated Tipp, that was actually a far livelier game. The margin between Kerry and Cork was 11 points, one less than the 2014 Munster final in the Páirc, but that didn't fully cover the chasm in class.

The Rebels had a game-plan designed to choke up space in front of Kerry’s dangerous full-forward unit and hit them on the break, but there weren’t enough competent footballers on show for it to pay off. Indeed Peadar Healy’s side still leaked a hurling score and could have conceded more goals.

Apart from Donncha O’Connor they didn’t have a marquee forward comparable to James O’Donoghue or Paul Geaney and were pretty toothless, wasting chances for green flags at key stages. The 36-year-old O'Connor made what was his Fitzgerald Stadium swansong and always looked a danger getting the ball close to goal, but with Paul Kerrigan hauled down every time he ran at Kerry, Cork were never going to put up a tally to get a win. 

Subs like Colm O’Neill, John O’Rourke, Peter Kelleher and Barry O’Driscoll didn’t even get a run to try and push Kerry onto the back foot. Injuries forced the hand of Healy and his selectors, including Kerry native and former Laois senior Billy Sheehan, but it's still staggering to think six replacements were needed and none of that quartet featured.

Cork held their own for much of the first half, hitting some poor wides – many down to shooting from bad angles – and spurning a couple of goal chances. Yet Kerry, who never looked like they were close to top gear, upped the ante briefly after the break to land four quick points and it was clearly game over. The atmosphere was muted because everyone in the ground knew what the outcome was going to be.

Disappointed Cork supporters leave early. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Disappointed Cork supporters leave early. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

There was little of note to get the decent Cork following going and reflecting on the game Douglas’ Seán Powter was the only unreserved positive. He excelled both hounding Donnchadh Walsh and rampaging up from wing-back.

Kerry's Stephen O'Brien goes past Cork's Sean Powter during the Munster SFC final at Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Kerry's Stephen O'Brien goes past Cork's Sean Powter during the Munster SFC final at Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Ian Maguire was good in the first half, until he faded, but we didn’t see enough of the other young guns like Kevin Crowley (who was stuck in corner-back) or Michael Hurley (who came on too late) to suggest the next round will be a step towards a brighter future.

The draw this morning pitted Clare at home to Mayo, and Donegal away to Meath in the next round of the qualifiers. Cork will face one of the two winners on July 22 in a neutral venue for a right to head to Croker for a quarter-final.

Given that stage hasn’t been reached for four years making the last eight would at least represent progress. Cork were appalling against Kildare in 2015 and left a very winnable tie behind them against Donegal last summer.

In the quarters Cork would take on the Connacht champions, most likely Galway, and beyond that Kerry or whoever beats them in the semis. Playing into late August for the first time since 2012 doesn’t seem plausible unfortunately. Any team would relish facing a Rebel short lacking conviction.

Before yesterday, Cork had travelled across the border and failed to beat Kerry on 11 occasions, but there had been five draws and the average margin of victory for the Kingdom was two points. In that context the Rebels’ inability to snatch a win since 1995 wasn’t quite as damning as was made out. Well until yesterday’s pitiful showing anyway.

Cork have risen to the stage in Fitzgerald Stadium before, making a mockery of their status as outsiders. This time though, even if Clancy’s missed goal chance might have swung the momentum at a vital time, they simply weren’t at the races.

Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

They didn’t go close to ending the curse as they had in 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2015 (2002 was a rain-spoiled slugfest). Maybe it’s because they’re not good enough? Maybe it’s because the management team can’t get them firing them? Either way it’s painful stuff to watch.

On another day, if everything had gone right, they might have pulled off a stunning upset but the fans weren’t left with enough to expect anything in a few weeks in the next round.

The stat now reads 12 games without a win in Killarney and will roll well beyond the 22-year gap because the next two Old Firm battles will be in the revamped Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

There are a few good footballers coming through, even if this season the Kingdom had the upper hand at U17, minor, U21, junior and senior. There is no real indication that Cork are moving in the right direction in general.

That, more than any single loss to Kerry, is the most depressing thing.

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