In the first half of Cork’s league relegation semi-final, most of the damage Westmeath were inflicting was coming off kick-outs, sourcing seven points off restarts.
Two of those scores came off Micheál Martin’s kick-outs but Westmeath scored four points off their short kick-outs and worked the ball the length of the field far too easily. By the end of the match, Westmeath bagged 0-12 off their own kick-out.
The damage Clare also inflicted on Cork off their own kick-out in their previous match was also revealing — Clare scored 1-9 off their own restarts. In modern football, the source of most scores comes from kick-outs and turnovers, but with the opposition also likely to accumulate scores off the Cork kick-out, Cork were conceding far too many scores off opposition kick-outs in the league. And it’s a trend that Cork will be aware off, and which they will surely have been working hard on ahead of the championship.
When the Westmeath game was in the balance, Westmeath hadn’t any game-changers to bring in, but Cork did; from just six possessions, Brian Hurley scored 1-3 from play, had an assist and almost had another goal with an audacious shot which hit the crossbar. From 11 possessions, Mark Collins scored a goal, claimed a mark, won a kick-out, had an assist and was fouled for a free.
The Cork bench contributed 2-7 that afternoon but Cork’s strong bench press was a factor throughout the league — they scored 2-18 off the bench during the league. That was also obvious last year from Cork’s first league game back against Offaly, when Michael Hurley scored 0-5 from play off the bench, to Mark Keane’s emphatic contribution in the Munster semi-final against Kerry.
Cork have strength in depth but with some key players still out injured — especially Cathail O’Mahony — Cork may look to hold some key players and spring them to inflict maximum damage late on when the game opens up.
When Cork struggled in the first quarter against Clare, not enough Cork players were getting back into their defensive shape quickly enough when Cork lost the ball and three Clare scores came off Cork turnovers. Getting their defensive shape and balance right was also an issue against Westmeath, but Cork’s difficulties in conceding so much against Clare and Westmeath (1-18 and 0-25) was exacerbated by the loss of so many defenders to injury at different stages of the campaign; Seán Powter, Liam O’Donovan, Paul Ring, Kevin Crowley, Maurice Shanley,
Nathan Walsh, and Aidan Browne. After Daniel O’Mahoney got injured against Clare, Seán Meehan went back to full-back. Meehan, who has been excellent, also picked up John Heslin in the Westmeath game. Some of those injured players will be back but Cork will need to get their defensive shape and balance right first for all the pieces to fit.