Cork footballers learned a harsh lesson this season but can kick on

Defeat to Tipp was a missed opportunity for the Rebels
Cork footballers learned a harsh lesson this season but can kick on

Sean Meehan of Cork in action against Colman Kennedy of Tipperary during the Munster football final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

IT may be over a month ago now, but the frustration of Cork’s loss to Tipperary in the Munster Football final still lingers, as the realisation really starts to hit home as to what a brilliant opportunity has been missed.

A first provincial crown since 2012 would have done for starters, but an outing up in Croke Park in an All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo could have given the Rebels a great opportunity to get back to the top table of Gaelic Football.

The nature of Mayo’s destruction of Tipperary in their last four clash would suggest that a Cork victory would have been unlikely. Yet given Cork’s Super 8 experience from 2019, where they tested both Dublin and Tyrone for an hour, it is likely that Cork would have faired better in that match than the Premier county managed.

Cillian O’Connor had a freak outing against Tipp, where he scored a stunning 4-6, and it is unlikely he would have had a day like that against anyone else. Also, it is worth noting that they shipped 3-13 as well as numerous very takeable goal-scoring opportunities to Tipperary, so it is not difficult to make the argument that Cork would have had a really good chance at rattling Mayo in that last four encounter.

Alas, we will never know.

All Cork can do is move on, and hopefully learn from this lost opportunity. There were a lot of talented young players on the Páirc Uí Chaoimh pitch for that harrowing defeat, and each of them would have learned valuable lessons about sport at the highest level that day that should stay with them for the remainder of their careers.

Probably the most frustrating aspect of Cork’s display in the Munster final was in terms of how steeply their performance levels dropped off from the semi-final triumph over Kerry.

Cork were rightly commended for their decision-making in pressure situations against the Kingdom, yet against Tipp that crucial game management and decision making fell to pieces. Whatever about systems and tactics, or strength and conditioning, this is the one area that Cork probably have to improve upon the most if they are ever going to harbour ambitions of matching the likes of Dublin.

The likes of Donegal, Tyrone, Mayo and Kerry can all match the Dubs in the fitness stakes, and even in terms of footballing ability, but the area in which Dublin are head and shoulders above every other side is the fact that they invariably always make the correct decision when in possession, and that rings true for both newcomers and veterans.

Dublin’s Ciaran Kilkenny and Oisín Mullin of Mayo. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Dublin’s Ciaran Kilkenny and Oisín Mullin of Mayo. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

That does not happen by accident. That is years and years of coaching and development coming to the fore. Those 90, or so, Games Promotion Officers employed in the capital for well over a decade were worth every penny.

Almost every Dublin possession ends up as a scoring opportunity, and the reason they put up such big scores is that they will retain possession until the right opportunity presents itself for the right player.

You never see a player panic or force it, and you rarely see a pass to a teammate that is less than 50/50.

Cork might feel that they play a similar brand of football but the key difference between them and Dublin is that when Dublin are recycling the ball around the middle third they are always looking to work an opening or, if possible, looking to feed Con O’Callaghan inside with quick, quality kick-passing.

Cork certainly have their moments in this regard, but too often the instinct is to go backwards or sideways just for the sake of safety, and there is definitely a reluctance to kick the ball into the full-forward line and put opposition full-back lines under pressure.

This makes them too easy to defend against. Lateral or backwards passing means that defenders don’t have to move or expend energy.

Sean Powter kicks a point. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Sean Powter kicks a point. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Strong running from deep and precise kick-passing are the two ways to breach such defences. Sean Powter was Cork’s main weapon against Kerry, but unfortunately missed the provincial decider, which had fatal consequences for Cork’s hopes, as they simply had no one who could run through Tipp in his absence.

With regards the kick-passing, there was no real appetite to engage in this against either Kerry or Tipp. This worked a treat in the dreadful conditions against Kerry, but the approach badly needed altering for the Final against Tipp.

Cork won the U20 All-Ireland in 2019 where a key feature of their play was the adventurous kick passing that opened up Kerry, Tyrone and Dublin on their way to All-Ireland glory.

The seniors must borrow a leaf out of their book if they are to progress as an attacking force.

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