CORK held on with 14 men to beat Clare by a solitary point in an entertaining and high-scoring contest at Cusack Park in Ennis on Sunday afternoon.
And while the win over a tough opponent is welcome, the failure to win by a four-point margin means that Cork now face a relegation play-off rather than a promotion decider in a fortnight.
Scoring 0-22 means that the attack has enjoyed a good day at the office, but obviously conceding 1-18 takes a gloss off that, especially when considering Cork were chasing that four-point win.
The most glaring statistic that jumps out post-match is the free count, with Cork getting whistled on 25 occasions to Clare’s 13.
Add to the free count the fact that Cork picked up seven yellow cards in the match, with two of those obviously being upgraded to a red card for Brian Hurley, then it is clear that Ronan McCarthy’s side have a considerable amount of work to do to drastically reduce these numbers going forward.
This is not a once-off either, as Cork conceded 24 frees in the victory over Laois last week, so work clearly needs to be done here.
The frustrating thing about Cork’s indiscipline is that they displayed on a number of occasions that they can defend properly in one-on-one situations. Examples of this include wonderful blocks by Sean Powter and Sean Meehan in the ninth and 37th minutes respectively, while Kevin Flahive and Kevin O’Donovan executed perfect tackles in the 19th and 56th minutes to force crucial turnovers.
Speaking of turnovers, Cork had 14 on the day, which was an improvement on the 24 they turned over against Laois in the previous round, although this can possibly be partially explained by the fact that Cork attempted fewer forward kick passes against Clare than they did against Laois, with that number dropping from 34 to 26. Reducing the amount of times a team kicks the ball forward obviously reduces the risk of kicking away possession, but it also has the effect of slowing down the build-up play and allowing defences to get organised.
The kick-out stats showed that Cork almost broke even. They did manage to win five of the nine contestable kick-outs that Micheal Martin launched long, but only retrieved eight of the 18 of Clare’s kick-outs. Martin chose to go short on 11 occasions to ensure Cork won possession, as it is clearly an area where Cork are not overly confident at present.
Maguire and Deane were joined by Luke Connolly at the top of the assists charts, with the three players all being responsible for setting up four points each in the narrow victory.
The 21st-minute introduction of Mitchelstown’s Cathail O’Mahony proved crucial, as he kicked three points from play from his first three possessions, and ended up with five points in total. Before O’Mahony began his scoring burst in the 23rd minute Cork had gone a full 10 minutes without registering a white flag, and the game was threatening to get away from them until he exerted his influence with his expert sharpshooting.
Carbery Rangers’ John O’Rourke also made a significant contribution with his four points from play, while, prior to his sending off, Brian Hurley was looking dangerous close to the Clare goal, as he fired over two quick points from play on his introduction.
Overall, 10 different Cork players got on the scoresheet, which has to be seen a positive. And Cork will be pleased at the fact that they only kicked four wides, although one scoring attempt did fall short, and they will be very frustrated at the fact that two Luke Connolly efforts from frees came bouncing back off the posts in the first half.
Hurley’s sending off, for a second bookable offence, probably affected how Cork approached the last few minutes. They needed to win by four points to secure a promotion play-off, but looking on, it seemed like they were happy to see out a one-point victory, rather than pushing on and looking for a goal that could have grabbed that promotional opportunity.