CORK face Mickey Harte’s Louth on Saturday afternoon at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Round 1 of the All-Ireland qualifiers looking for a victory that can send them hurtling towards ‘positive campaign’ territory.
Cork’s meeting with Kerry at Páirc Uí Rinn in the Munster championship semi-final on May 7 was never going to define their 2022 season.
Survival in Division 2 and a decent run in the qualifiers were always Cork’s most likely success stories this year and given they stayed up in the league, just about, they are halfway towards that positive campaign.
Currently, Cork and Kerry are operating at different levels, so a Rebel victory was never really on the cards in that one. It certainly served as a useful barometer to measure where Cork are right now.
They were able to live with Kerry for 50 minutes, before the physical and mental exhaustion finally kicked in on the Cork side, with Kerry going from just a point up in the second half to eventually pulling clear to win pulling up on a 0-23 to 0-11 margin.
However, there was a lot of good stuff for manager John Cleary to build on in that display.
The defensive system certainly held up to close scrutiny and the likes of Steven Sherlock and Cathail O’Mahony proved that if given ample supply that the Cork attack can do wreck.
Ultimately, Cork’s biggest failing that evening was in retaining their own kick-out. Kerry scored seven points in a row between minutes 50 and 63, so clearly Dylan Foley was kicking the ball out a lot in that second half, yet the second half was a whole 24 minutes old by the time Cork won their first clean kick-out.
In modern football, turnovers, wides and frees conceded are incredibly important when it comes to analysing the game, as they are the moments when the ball gets handed back to the opposition, with every possession being viewed as a scoring opportunity.
Similarly, kick-outs have for years now been seen as a crucial element to get right if you expect to be successful. Every kick-out is a chance to get your hands on the ball. It is one of the few situations where you are in control of the ball, so if you can retain possession it theoretically means you will get more scoring opportunities.
Most teams have copped this and have spent a lot of time getting their kick-out strategies in order, as these strategies can be the difference between failures and success.
Cork either do not have a kick-out strategy or their strategy is too easy to decode, because in almost every big game in recent seasons, Cork have resorted to going long from kick-outs, with extremely mixed results.
If Cork are to have any ambitions of developing as a side then this is an area that must be drastically improved both in the short and long term.
Douglas’ Brian Hartnett is recovering from a serious hamstring tear so is definitely out, but the likes of Brian Hayes and Killian O’Hanlon can hopefully bolster the Rebel middle eight, and even if that kick-out strategy has yet to be nailed down a lot of this can be offset by the presence of as many big men in the middle as possible to give the Cork goalkeeper plenty of tall targets to hit.
Louth were crowned Division 3 champions in the league in early April when they defeated Limerick by five points in Croke Park in a campaign that saw them top the table in impressive fashion with five wins and one draw garnered in their seven ties.
When they hammered Carlow by 5-10 to 0-10 in the opening round of the Leinster Championship they looked like they could be a real banana skin for Kildare in the subsequent quarter-final, only to be blown out of it to the tune of 2-22 to 0-12 in surprising fashion. If that version of Louth turns up on Leeside on Saturday then Cork should expect to progress, but if that whitewash proves to have been a once-off then it could be a long afternoon for Cork.
Louth managed only 10 and 12 points in their two championship outings, but obviously, those five goals scored against Carlow is where Cork need to take care. If the Cork rearguard can mind the house as well as they did against Kerry then you would expect that they would have too much firepower at the other end for the Wee County.