IT was a strange sort of atmosphere at Páirc Uí Rinn for Cork footballers in their final league game of the season, with the largest home crowd for an age turning out yet quite openly not exactly because of them.
They didn’t desperately need a result from the game but again they almost lost a game that seemed to be there for the taking and really they lacked quality or enough urgency or the right tempo to have control of the game for large spells. Down missed a lot of shots at goal and Cork looked a bit disjointed, lacked any spell of fluency in possession and relied again on some moments of ability from the usual suspects to get just enough scores out of the game.
It hasn’t been a chaotic league campaign as regards use of players and Cork have been quite consistent through the lines (in defence especially) but you couldn’t really say all the questions have been fully answered either or that this performance suggested Cork have found the solutions to move on yet.
Again it was hard enough to pick out a definite way Cork were meant to be moving the ball and there’s a reliance on little moments of creativity from individuals. Colm O’Neill again did his share as most likely to score with six points (four frees) and two assists from eleven scores a fairly high percentage, if he will be a bit cross with himself for not nailing that late free to win it.
Again Paul Kerrigan was by far the person Cork looked to get most on the ball to make things happen and again Kerrigan was the most likely to do something different to open up Down. He kicked perhaps the only two half decent passes into Peter Kelleher all game to create two frees that were scored. And again it seemed a shame that the Kelleher option was neglected so much, even on a couple of occasions when they had frees maybe 60 metres from goal and lobbing the ball on top of the number fourteen seemed to be seriously on or the several times when a Cork player broke halfway and Kelleher had his hand in the air but the player in possession didn’t even seem to think of looking long.
Anyway, Kerrigan curled a lovely point from out on the wing in the second half. The goal was basically down to Kerrigan’s awareness of Ruairi Deane’s run into space and then the ability to find him with the kickpass – and then Deane’s footballing ability to pull off a dummy solo one-v-one with the goalie, a not small achievement for a big galloping midfielder. And Kerrigan finished off with a run along the endline and punch over from Cork’s only other proper move of quality, John O’Rourke kicked a lovely angled crossfield pass to O’Neill, who laid off to Kerrigan on the run.
Two points from play, an involvement in the goal and a handful of points, there’s a lot of responsibility on Kerrigan to keep producing. Take Mark Collins and Luke Connolly out of the team and there aren’t a whole pile of other forwards who’ll kickpass into the danger area and Kerrigan becomes the best kickpasser, the forward most able to burn a defender and the forward with the eye to create a goal chance as well. Down dragged numbers back and Cork did struggle to get players into spaces to create chances apart from Kerrigan.
Other points to note?
The midfield still looks a work-in-progress, with an awful lot of talk coming from the sideline to the midfield area in particular in the first half, where the return of Alan O’Connor only lasted thirty-five minutes. Deane has nailed down a starting role here with his energy and willingness to get on the ball – his point in the second half where he ran into a quick crossfield free from Colm O’Neill was clever and had the right amount of confidence to take that responsibility on - and the most obvious thing to do with Ian Maguire and Aidan Walsh hasn’t completely presented itself in the games so far.
Cork still haven’t worked out a consistent system for making players available when they need to move the ball from deep in their own defence so are over-reliant on one player needing to break a tackle – again Cork coughed up good possession at times from defenders having to carry the ball into contact or groups of opposition. Cork didn’t win a huge supply of ball directly from contested kick-outs and it means the plan of just shuttling the ball to the corner-back in order to keep possession isn’t fully functional yet.
James Loughrey has settled into centre-back quite comfortably, cut off a decent amount of ball meant for the Down full-forward line and carried ball forward with purpose as well. And individually it’s hard to pick out defenders who’ve been in serious bother at any stage and yet when Down needed a find scores to try and get something from the game in the last quarter, Cork couldn’t quite stop them from putting those together.
Cork ended the league as they started, with a Colm O’Neill placed ball that might have won a game they probably should have put to bed far earlier. It’s been that sort of campaign, that sense of things nearly working out but something still missing.
After seven games, Cork don’t look a complete unit yet all over the pitch.