The Christy O'Connor column: Footballers still searching for the right formula

Cork came into the Kildare loss hopeful after running Dublin to one point in a challenge game the previous weekend
The Christy O'Connor column: Footballers still searching for the right formula

Ciarán Sheehan of Cork is tackled by Mick O'Grady and Kevin Flynn at Semple Stadium last weekend. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

DEVOID of atmosphere and sterilised of ambience, one of the few positives of empty stadiums is that everything is audible, including the instructional messages from players and managers.

At one point just before half-time on Saturday afternoon, Cork manager Ronan McCarthy could be heard roaring to his players: ‘Don’t take the ball into trouble, be patient.’ 

The wet and slippery conditions were a factor but turning over the ball on 17 occasions was one of the chief reasons Cork lost to Kildare on Saturday.

McCarthy’s frustration towards the end of the second quarter was compounded after Cork had looked far more composed and patient than their opponents in the first quarter.

Their fourth point from Kevin O’Driscoll was a brilliant score in the circumstances, and particularly in that patient build up play and shot selection was an area that Cork needed to improve on after last year’s Munster final defeat.

In the lead up to that score, Cork almost turned over the ball twice, part of which was down to the slippery conditions, but they still smartly retained possession, going over and back across the pitch in two different sequences, necklacing 22 passes together before O’Driscoll nailed the point with the outside of his boot.

There was no sense of panic or tendency to shoot wildly when the opportunity arose on a couple of occasions. 

Paul Walsh of Cork in action against Kevin Feely of Kildare. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Paul Walsh of Cork in action against Kevin Feely of Kildare. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

That level of patience defines the top teams but, similar to last year’s Munster final, Cork couldn’t find a way once Kildare got a foothold and put up the barricades to halt Cork’s running game.

BAD HABITS

Once Kildare established the match conditions and tempo on their terms, the bad habits returned for Cork. They hit 10 wides but some of Cork’s overall shooting was wild and wayward – in the number ten position of the pitch, Cork nailed just one score from six attempts in that sector.

An opening day Division 2 game was never going to provide much absolution but it was still an important first step in that search for redemption after last year’s championship, with Kildare blowing up against Meath, and Cork losing to Tipperary. 

One result won’t accelerate or decelerate that redemptive process for both teams but Kildare left Thurles feeling far better about themselves.

Kildare didn’t exactly tear it up but they were just more forceful, especially on kick-outs, while their two goals were decisive in the second half. Teams are entitled to be cut some slack after being out of action for so long but Kildare’s 47% conversion rate from play was still critical when compared with Cork’s 41%.

Cork came into the match positive and hopeful after running Dublin to one point in a challenge game the previous weekend. 

Yet on this display, the pus is still oozing from the scars of that Munster final defeat. 

The only plus was that the result could have been far worse, which would have made the long-term healing even harder again; Kildare retreated to guard a nine-point lead and Cork hit the last five scores.

There were positives for Cork but most of those were offset by corresponding negatives. 

Cork sourced 44% of their scores off their own kick-out but Kildare got 40% of their scores off the Cork kick-out.  Three of the Cork kick-outs Kildare secured were claimed as marks. In total, Kildare won 74% of their own kick-outs. 

Kildare sourced 20% of their scores off turnovers.

Cork had 60% possession in the first half but they ran out of gas, and ideas after the break; after having 31 tackles in the first half, that number was almost halved after the interval when Cork made 17 tackles in the second half.

Brian Hartnett of Cork in action against Fergal Conway of Kildare. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Brian Hartnett of Cork in action against Fergal Conway of Kildare. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Cork started well but they left six scoring opportunities after them in the first quarter, either through wayward shooting or balls dropped short into the keeper’s arms.

Cork created twice as many scoring chances as Kildare in that opening quarter but they still only led by two points. 

Trailing by one at the break was even more disappointing considering how many turnovers Cork forced in the first half. 

In one four-minute period, they broke up three Kildare attacks down the central channel, but they couldn’t convert that possession into scores.

As the half wore on, Kildare began to get a grip on Cork’s restarts, winning three successive Cork kick-outs just before the interval. Kildare had found their groove in the second quarter but they pressed their foot even harder on the accelerator in the third quarter. 

Cork’s running game stagnated as Kildare forced them into more turnovers down the centre. 

Kevin Flynn’s goal came from a break-away counter-attack off a turnover while Jimmy Hyland’s green flag was sourced off a Cork kick-out.

Cork will be disappointed especially when they had targeted promotion but that will be a real struggle now, especially with two more away games to come.

The manner of this defeat won’t have done Cork’s confidence any favours but they have no other option now but to stay positive. They have some big names to return from injury while this was also Cork’s first competitive game in six months.

Yet Cork still wanted to make a statement, which they didn’t. 

They also wanted to take some heat off themselves after the Munster final defeat, which was exacerbated by the PR disaster of what happened on Youghal beach in January.

The work goes on but so does the search for that something special that Cork produced against Kerry in November.

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