WITH 20 minutes to go in Páirc Uí Rinn it looked like we could begin the report of Cork footballers turning some kind of corner as they had 16 points on the board, were reasonably comfortable and seemed about to drift to a decent win over Meath.
And then, well Cork managed to cobble together all the doubts and problems afflicting them right now into that final chaotic last twenty and turned it into a game that summed up where we are with this current Cork group.
Glimpses of promising individual performances? Check. Chances, lot of them, passed up to completely kill the game off? Check. A horrible collapse-like spell where they seem unable to stop a landslide of scores when under pressure? Check. Another game not won (and almost lost in truth) that ought to have been put to bed? Check.
Cork showed potential to win games but then showed this terrible vulnerability that’s turned into a habit now and proving really difficult to shake. Again we’re left with this general feeling of not being able to make progress or learn enough from past mistakes and of all positives being lost in what happened. Cork were hoping to find themselves in this league while finding a way out of it. Now they’re facing into a tricky relegation trip to Derry as unsure of themselves and how to win games as ever.
That last quarter had that sense of something we’ve seen before. Again Cork really struggled to get ball past an opposition midfield line into the wind and all the open spaces and free players that presented in the opening 45 minutes couldn’t be located. On several occasions Ken O’Halloran could be heard shouting for options for the man in possession in defence as Cork didn’t get enough runners free out to the wings and it’s a risky game for defenders needing to break tackles with the ball in their own full-back line.
At one stage Cork had three chances to get the ball out of their full-back line but got lost in overly static handpassing and lack of alternatives out the field to cough up possession and a score. Meath just pressured Cork into handling mistakes they hadn’t been making and runners started getting in behind Cork’s defence. Pretty much all the Meath forward line was capable of winning ball off their man and they started to turn that to scores – Cork weren’t exposed individually but they weren’t on top either and the defence never compensated as a unit and they pretty much lost all shape for that last quarter when Meath looked like creating chances whenever they attacked even with numbers back.
Graham Reilly was in attack on his own against four Cork defenders at one stage but got a shot for a point off as nobody made the call to close him down. An extra man was created down the middle to pop a ball in for a runner from deep, Donal Keogan, one-v-one with Ken O’Halloran for a goal. Cork simply couldn’t work the ball out of their danger area and they’ll need to find a more reliable strategy for getting ball from the full-back line to their attack than just expecting one defender to beat his man.
Locking games down when in a position of control remains high on the agenda. Even when they did get past the Meath middle third the passing and ball control was sloppier than in the first half and they couldn’t find the right decision makers on the ball when necessary.
The pity is there was promise in the opening half and in some positions especially. Ruairi Deane again put his hand up as midfielder number one on the teamsheet, made a couple of big fetches, kicked a point and was still involved to the end as the game’s dominant midfielder.
Tactically Cork pushed right up on Meath in big numbers and forced them into turnovers and mistakes coming out with ball over and again. Cork hit 12 points in the first half with the wind and created two decent goal chances and if they didn’t have a particularly coherent kick-passing strategy (it looked like they could have looked long a little more naturally at times), they did have a dangerous combination inside with Peter Kelleher and Colm O’Neill when they decided to use it properly.
Cork’s first point from play arrived from a long kick by Mark Collins (who led the attack well and was heavily involved in the first half especially) which Peter Kelleher fetched, laid off to Colm O’Neill on the loop to kick over. So simple yet so effective and yet Cork seemed a little hesitant to use it with the wind.
Later in the half John O’Rourke kicked a diagonal sideline to Kelleher who laid off to O’Neill running at an angle to open up a goal chance – O’Neill shot just wide. Another John O’Rourke kick to Kelleher, another lay-off to O’Neill, another point. Another John O’Rourke kick to Kelleher which the big full-forward pointed himself. By that stage Cork were so dominant in forcing errors and opening up spaces with runners that the scores flowed through Collins and then Deane and it looked like Cork could do pretty much whatever they decided for the afternoon.
Instead these old failings returned. Cork almost lost it, almost won it again, and credit to James Loughrey and Barry O’Driscoll for driving on that equaliser and almost-winner, but the draw doesn’t really give them was they desperately needed here, that build of confidence and momentum. Cork were hungry, played like they wanted to make things right here, their work-rate for pressing in the first half was impressive.
That’s just not enough at the moment, not when they keep creating the same problems for themselves.