WHEN a side looks to gauge its current state of play, it’s safe to assume that being involved in relegation play-offs would usually be seen as a negative.
Like it or not, that is where the Cork footballers are right now, as they face-off against Westmeath at Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the right to stay in Division 2 next year.
The reality of the situation is that, despite winning two of their three ties in Division 2 South, Cork have to beat a side that lost all three of their games in Division 2 North or otherwise they will find themselves back down in the depths of Division 3 next year.
Ronan McCarthy and his team would have been hoping to be facing into the prospect of a Division 1 promotion play-off, but instead, they must endure the lose-lose scenario of facing Westmeath.
It is a game that they will receive no credit for if they win, but if they lose they will not hear the end of it for a long time.
Cork go into the game as massive favourites with the bookmakers; they are 1/6 to win the tie, and in the handicap, Westmeath get a five-point head start. The bookies are rarely wrong, but Westmeath’s stats in Division 2 North suggest that the Rebels might not have it all their own way if they do not bring their ‘A game’ tomorrow.
Against Meath, Mayo, and Down the Lake County registered scoring totals of 0-15, 2-12, and 1-9 in their respective matches. You could easily argue that Division 2 North was a higher standard than Division 2 South, and if Westmeath could hit their 15-point game average, then Cork might be in for a very uncomfortable afternoon in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
It could have been a lot different for Westmeath too. They actually led Meath by four points with 14 minutes to go in Round 1 of the league, only for the Royals to win in a storming comeback, ultimately winning the game with a 71st-minute winner.
John Heslin and Luke Loughlin scored 0-10 between them against Meath, and while the accusation might be made that they are over-reliant on the pair it is a similar accusation that could have been levied at Clare two weeks ago, yet David Tubridy and Eoin Cleary still made hay against the Rebels defence.
Mayo would be regarded by many observers as one of the few teams around who might rattle Dublin later this year, yet in Round 2 Westmeath actually led them by a point at half-time. Mayo rallied to win by three in the end, but by the final whistle, they knew they had been in a battle. It’s worth noting that
Heslin and Loughlin scored 2-8 of their 2-12 on the day.
They then played Down in Round 3, in what was effectively a dead rubber, considering both sides were already consigned to a relegation play-off, and Down were very lucky to hold on to a one-point victory. Westmeath, therefore, ended their campaign with three losses, but a -5 points difference tells us that they were not the pushovers the final league table might suggest they were.
Cork finished their Division 2 South campaign with an 18-point average per game, but that was significantly bolstered by the impressive 0-22 they racked up in the win over Clare in Ennis. It remains to be seen whether Cork are a side that can register big enough tallies to be putting away teams of Westmeath’s calibre on a regular basis because as of right now, they are very much hit and miss in this regard.
Cork need to become much better at shutting down the main marksmen of the opposition; 1-9 of that total may have been from a penalty and frees, but that in itself tells a negative story from a Cork perspective.
The Cork defence finds itself in a bit of a chicken and egg dilemma. They need to restrict the opposition sharpshooters on the scoreboard with tighter defending, but they simply must stop giving away so many frees within kicking range of their own goal. It clearly is a balance that Cork are struggling to get right at present.
If Cork can get the number of frees conceded stat down, while not letting the Westmeath attackers run amok, then you would imagine that form attackers of the calibre of Cathail O’Mahony, John O’Rourke, and Luke Connolly, with a few points thrown in from elsewhere, will be enough to secure Division 2 Football on Leeside for next year.