WHY were Cork U20 footballers so flat in the first-half of their All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Offaly at the weekend?
It’s one of those imponderables and we’ll never know the answer.
Monaghan were similarly lethargic against Tyrone in the Ulster final the same afternoon, but that was recognised as giving too much respect to the opposition.
The same thing happened boxer Kurt Walker in his quarter-final fight against the American Duke Reagan, who won a split decision in the Olympic featherweight medal contest mainly due to a dominant opening round.
Complacency might have crept in to the Cork camp, the thinking that ‘it’s only Offaly and what have they ever won?
And this despite manager Keith Ricken’s best efforts to avoid falling into such a pit-hole in the build-up to the game.
Yet, that would detract from Offaly’s fully-merited victory because it was more like their intensity all through that had Cork on the ropes from the throw-in.
A 1-7 to 0-3 interval deficit might have seemed a lot, but it was only afterwards that you appreciated the strength of the wind, which was at Cork’s backs in the second-half.
Offaly just ran at Cork at every opportunity regardless of the number on the back of the jersey or position on the pitch.
Yet, Cork’s battling qualities surfaced again as they did against Kerry, who scored 1-3 in the Munster semi-final late on to draw level only for Cork to come again.
And it was the same story in the final against Tipperary, who hit Cork with a double-goal blast early on, but Cork still ran out 10-point winners.
Cork went off script during the first-half and but for missing a couple of clear-cut goal-scoring chances Offaly could have been out of sight.
“You need a bit of luck, but we didn’t create enough opportunities in the first-half and we tried shots from difficult positions,” said Ricken.
“The lads recognised that themselves at half-time and we did something about it.
“When you’re nine points down it’s easy for fellows to go down with a hamstring or a bit of ill-discipline can creep in.
“But, we had nothing of the sort and the lads, to be fair, stuck to the task and tried their hardest.
“We have a motto in our team that says ‘I do my best because I’m counting on you counting on me.’
Cork reduced the lead to 1-9 to 0-8 approaching the second water break which seemed to be coming at wrong time after hitting three points on the spin.
But, Offaly’s second goal was a blow to the solar plexus and while Cork cancelled it out with three more points on the resumption that had eaten up six minutes on the clock, which wasn’t Cork’s friend at the time.
Still, Ricken is right in saying the future is promising for Cork, especially at this level with around half of the panel and the full training squad eligible again next year.
A number have shown their potential to be tried at senior, notably Diarmaid Phelan from Aghada in defence, a right warrior.
Ciaran O’Sullivan (Kilshannig) put his hand up with three points from play from the middle third of the pitch while David Buckley (Newcestown) and young Colin Walsh (Kanturk), among others, also show promise.
There are obvious lessons for the minors, who meet Limerick in the Munster final tomorrow week.
Beating Kerry is one thing, but following it up against minnows like Limerick is the critical factor.
Manager Michael O’Brien will beat this drum regularly, but he was encouraged by the players’ response during Kerry’s late charge.
“When we were on the ball we always had support runners and it was great that everyone wanted the ball and didn’t hide,” he said.
“That’s what we do in training. Everyone gets touches of the ball and it paid off there.
“At this level you have to use your bench, too. Fellows around the middle and wing-forwards get very tired because of the amount of running they have to do.
“The five lads who came on did as well as those who started and that’s very important.”