BEFORE the Munster Football final last Sunday, I felt Cork had a chance, if they started well, and avoided the hesitation they showed in their first halves versus Waterford and Tipperary.
While Kerry have been the dominant force in Munster for the last number of years any time Cork have started well they have shown the ability to more than match Kerry. The most recent example been 2015 in Killarney where Kerry were fortunate to come away with a draw.
Considering the late changes to the starting team it appeared Luke Connolly and Niall Coakley were selected to provide extra mobility in the full-forward line which would enable Cork to execute their defensive game plan effectively which involved at times dropping 15 men behind the ball. The plan fell down though due to inconsistent pressure on the ball plus Cork struggled on their own kick-outs.
A lack of pressure on the ball allowed Kerry players to both transition the ball easily and deliver accurate angled ball into the full-forward line.
I have seen this happen numerous times in games when players drop behind the ball but they end up leaving it to each other to get real pressure on the opposition or track the runner.
Whereas on the other hand if a player is willing to work hard enough he can be outnumbered two or three to one but still delay the opposition's transition from defence to attack.
As expected then with the plentiful supply of ball, Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue got the upper hand scoring 1-7 from play between them. James O’Donoghue, in particular, looked very sharp and carried the form he showed in the second half versus Clare into this game.
Combined with poor defensive pressure, Cork lost three of their first five kick-outs which made their defensive plan redundant as Kerry were now attacking into plenty of space and it was one v one in the Cork backline. As a consequence Cork were down four points to nil after five minutes.
A similar pattern happened at the start of the second half. Cork had worked themselves back into the game by half-time and were only four points adrift. Kerry got the upper hand immediately again in the second half winning the throw in which finished with an excellent Stephen O’Brien point.
Cork again struggled to win their own kick-outs and within a matter of minutes, Cork were eight points adrift and in serious trouble.
Kerry will be delighted with their shooting accuracy but what will disappoint them was the loss of easy possession in the first half, which allowed Cork, get back into the game. In a period of eight attacks, Kerry lost possession six times. You must give Cork credit as they got tighter on their men but it seemed Kerry got complacent also after such a good start and players started to play for themselves. Ball was either lost in possession or over-carried.
Cork built some great attacks from this possession, forcing Kerry to foul resulting in four points but they also had three other wides during this period, which highlighted Kerry’s vulnerability at the back. When Cork ran at Kerry they did at times open them up, and while Cork created four goal chances over the course of the game they will look back at Ian Maguire and Tomás Clancy’s missed chances as critical.
During both instances, Kerry were the dominant team but a goal at those stages would have kept Cork in striking distance of Kerry and provided Cork with needed momentum and belief.
Along with Sean Powter, Maguire and Clancy were, in fact, Cork’s better performers on the day.
Looking at the team that was selected earlier in the week I expected Sean Powter to pick up James O’Donoghue. He did a great job though on Donnchadh Walsh in the first half while also making a few daring runs which unsettled the Kerry defence. It would have been interesting to see how Powter would have fared on O’Donoghue.
I was involved with a Cork U14 selection in 2011 that Sean Powter was part of. Back then, while by no means one the fittest or fastest players, he was still one of the standout players due to leadership alone.
He showed those same qualities here and if he can keep his head down, he can have a bright future.
Another place Kerry got the upper hand was with the substitutions that all had an impact. Stephen O’Brien came on at half time and was an instant impact with two early points, scoring three overall. You just cannot afford a direct runner like O’Brien space to build up pace and run at you. O’Brien would have been unfortunate not to start as he was excellent when introduced versus Clare in the semi-final.
Then again Eamonn Fitzmaurice might feel he has greater impact been introduced as a sub similar to the positive effect Kevin MacManamon had with Dublin over the last few years.
Anthony Maher had got the upper hand on Ruairí Deane at midfield but then when Maher was tiring, Fitzmaurice was able to introduce Jack Barry who put Alan O’Connor on the back foot, which nullified his impact for Cork.
Looking ahead to qualifiers it’s hard to know what to expect. Cork would have been targeting a Munster championship win as their main goal for 2017 but that’s gone now.
It’s time to honestly reflect, learn from mistakes and take it one game at a time. If the attitude is right, progress can be made.
Performance Coach: @paudiekissane, www.pkperformance.ie