FORGET the calculator. It might be the rulebook that is required at Cusack Park, in Ennis, on Sunday, to ascertain which two of Cork, Clare, and Kildare will be looking forward to a promotion play-off and which faces into a relegation play-off.
A win, in this round 3, Division 2 South clash, is the first thing that Cork must achieve, and after that we will be into points-difference territory, assuming Kildare beat Laois.
To keep it in their own hands, Ronan McCarthy’s side must win by four points. If that happens, then all well and good, but a side cannot go into an important game targeting a win by a certain score. That will have to look after itself.
Key to Cork winning by such a margin could be the contribution of maverick Nemo Rangers marksman, Luke Connolly, who returned to the Cork team last Saturday night in Portlaoise, at O’Moore Park.
The Cork coach, Ronan McCarthy, said that Connolly had been pressed into action in that round-2 tie, despite little training, but he showed how important he is to this Cork team.
Connolly played 50 minutes before he was replaced by Kilmacabea’s Damien Gore, but he had 18 possessions, and 14 of these were kicked passes.
In a team that overuses the hand pass in their build-up play, to have Connolly, who is willing to put boot to ball, is a huge asset.
This was illustrated when three slick, kicked passes from Sean Powter, John O’Rourke, and Connolly meant that Cork went the length of the field in seconds in the second minute, in a move that culminated in a brilliant Sean White goal.
To put Connolly’s kicking stats in context, captain Ian Maguire kicked the ball four times in 18 possessions, Sean Powter seven times in 17 possession, while Ciaran Sheehan kicked the football just four times in his 22 possessions.
These three players were hugely influential in Cork’s win, but to beat Clare on Sunday, McCarthy’s side are going to have to mix it up, and be brave enough to risk turnovers by kicking through Clare, before they are able to set up their blanket defence. Having Connolly operating deep, and feeding shooters inside, could be key to this.
There are a few areas where Cork will be looking to improve from the Laois display. They turned the ball over 12 times in each half, which is a statistic that McCarthy will be looking to reduce on Sunday, as well as come Championship time.
Obviously, some risk-taking must be encouraged, too, so finding that balance, between taking risks and being too risk-averse, will be something that Cork will be looking to figure out in the next few weeks.
Against Kildare, Cork well and truly lost the midfield battle. They fared better against Laois, but of Micheal Martin’s 12 contestable kick-outs last Saturday, Cork only won six of them, while, on Laois’s contestable kick-outs, they only won four out of nine. They will come up against a better midfield pairing this weekend, in Darren O’Neill and Cathal O’Connor, so it is still an area where Cork can improve going forward.
After the Laois game, Ronan McCarthy said that Ian Maguire is not training an awful lot, as he is nursing a knee issue, but he had a huge influence for Cork, which needs to continue.
As well as contributing 0-2 from play, he assisted 1-2, and was heavily involved in general play.
His first-half point — he caught a Martin kick-out in midfield and ran straight through the heart of the Laois defence to kick over the bar — was arguably the score of the game.
To beat Clare, Cork simply have to put the shackles on their main sharpshooter, Eoin Cleary, who has scored 0-17 in the Banner’s two wins to date. It will be interesting to see whether the impressive Daniel O’Mahony is given the job of doing the shackling on Sunday.
The Knocknagree youngster gave a tigerish display against Laois, and McCarthy will be hoping to see more of this ‘playing from the front’ type of defending at the weekend.
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