Analysis of the footballers' loss to Kerry simply highlights a flawed game plan

Analysis of the footballers' loss to Kerry simply highlights a flawed game plan
Cork manager Peadar Healy. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

WHEN Brenda O’Donoghue put the question to Jimmy Kerrigan on Radio One last Sunday evening, the 'what do Cork need to do to catch up with Kerry' teaser, the thought crossed our mind that this answer may well shorten the journey home. 

Like the rest of us though, Jimmy wasn’t in the form for meaningful analysis yet and mentioned the need for a drink instead. It felt like one of those times where you weren’t quite sure where to start on the most dispiriting part of the day. 

The sense that Cork hadn’t completely collapsed and yet the ease with which Kerry had brushed them aside. That for all the noises about Cork building behind the scenes there was no real big performance here. 

The feeling that outside the players and management there weren’t too many people in Cork who really cared anymore because it was basically it’s all that people expected anyway. 

And that’s before we even get to the wider questions, like what’s the next five or 10 years going to be like on the back of the current Kerry underage dominance given their record of building on these players is far superior to ours, or where are scores going to come from post-Donncha or where’s our next powerful aerial midfielder post-Alan? 

See, it’s not a pretty line of thought.

Strip away the emotion of the first watch and the second viewing reveals the details of a plan that just wasn’t strong enough to hold. 

The defensive idea looked straight-forward, Cork’s defence man-marked Kerry’s front six and bodies flooded back from the midfield and half-forward line to help, while Kevin O’Driscoll placed himself in a sweeper position at times in the first half and on other occasions James Loughrey stepped back in front of his full-back line. It’s just that the numbers were often not affecting the game and didn’t either stop runners or ball getting to the danger areas. 

There has to be pressure on the ball coming from outside to make a sweeper most effective yet Kerry had time and space on the ball to pick too many passes. 

At one stage, Tadhg Morley had room on Cork’s 45 to look up, kick the ball to the side of James Loughrey for James O’Donoghue to get possession, lay off to Paul Murphy who created a goal chance for Paul Geaney.  Kerry kicked the ball into O’Donoghue-Geaney nine times in the first half, resulting in seven scores. 

O’Donoghue’s influence couldn’t be halted; he was on the ball in 13 attacks in the first 40 minutes of the game and created nine chances. Eight were taken. Those figures for Geaney – eight attacks with possession, six chances, five scores. 

Cork’s communication in defensive areas created problems. 

For one James O’Donoghue point, there were five Cork players in his vicinity who could have made a tackle or put him off but weren’t able to. In fairness, it was a wonder point from an attacking sense. 

For Kieran Donaghy’s point, three Cork defenders rushed to Donaghy who gave a handpass to a free man, two defenders then rushed to Kevin McCarthy but allowed him move inside and give the return to Donaghy, who’d been allowed drift in on goal unfollowed.  For the Geaney goal, two Cork defenders jumped for the ball with Donaghy with nobody standing under the break. 

The good news is Cork will hardly be facing so deadly a front two or so fluent an attacking force again. The bad news is this inability to execute the defensive structure and decision making won’t help against any of the running teams either. 

Cork didn’t target enough turnovers and will have to be more aggressive to the ball in all sections of the field – they didn’t really push up on Kerry in possession and only Sean Powter got close enough to his man consistently.

It was interesting to hear Peadar Healy explain afterwards how Cork won’t be a high-scoring team right now and the fears of Cork being unable to reach the 20-point mark were accurate. 

You could make a case for Colm O’Neill being pulled if ball-winners were more necessary but Cork just didn’t have anybody to pop scores like Kerry. 

Cork kicked nine balls into their full-forward line in the first half as well but struggled to create shots on goal from their main scorers from them – Cork got three scored frees but weren’t generally able to turn those kicks inside into chances for Luke Connolly or Niall Coakley as turning and taking their man on isn’t either player’s natural strength. 

Connolly had one shot from play in the first half, missed; Coakley had just four possessions and one shot, missed also. Paul Kerrigan, so effective against Tipp, only got on the ball six times in the opening 45 or so minutes and never in a position to work a shot on goal. Mark Collins couldn’t really influence the game with only six times on the attack in the first half. 

Cork’s most effective attacking weapon was running the ball – Ian Maguire and Tomas Clancy both made goals chances from strong running from deep and both scored points from runs off the shoulder of the player in possesion, Sean Powter and James Loughey both ran strongly down the middle in the first half especially.

But it feels a tough ask to create enough scores from the running game against a top team. Runners get isolated too easily and run into traffic. It’s not the most efficient way to target the shooters you want on the ball. It’s difficult to sustain for a full game in the middle third. 

Kerry bottled Cork up at times too, at one stage Niall Coakley was surrounded by six Kerry players and blocked. 

Cork more or less had as many attacks as Kerry but just weren’t as clever at turning those into scores and they’re still searching for the balance of players from number 10 upwards that’ll get enough ball into the scoring zones and still have the right quality to get enough scores. Cork must find ways to get close to 16 or 17 scores and one or two goals if they’re to take out a big gun.

If the Cork football culture question is ongoing long-term, we’re still not entirely sure what sort of team this one is trying to become. The running game is only working in little bursts because it’s a tough ask and Cork don’t yet have enough players to carry it through. 

Cork didn’t bring enough blood and thunder or a strong enough system or enough individuals in form to take out a big team. They’ll need to find one or two of those to make the qualifiers work.

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