Christy O'Connor: Stop comparing Cork to football teams further down the road in terms of development

Draw has been kind to Cork in terms of making the All-Ireland quarter-finals but they're building a platform for 2023 and beyond
Christy O'Connor: Stop comparing Cork to football teams further down the road in terms of development

Cork's Paul Walsh wins an aerial ball against Limerick in Sunday's qualifier win at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

IN his TV analysis just before the throw-in of Sunday’s qualifier game against Limerick, Seán Cavanagh again expressed his concerns about Cork, which was based more on distrust than any in-depth analysis around their quality and credentials.

“I just don’t trust Cork,” said Cavanagh. “I trust Limerick more. I feel it’s an opportunity for Cork to make it by default. But I still feel Limerick may have the edge.” 

Cavanagh has had a beef with Cork for a while now but it was still hard to disagree with his comments, largely because he was summarising what has largely defined the perception around Cork football over the last number of years, especially towards their identity as a group – a complete lack of trust.

That trust was seriously tested again late on in Sunday’s match. Cork were ahead by six points and seemingly in full control, but Limerick reduced the deficit to two points with an unanswered 1-1 and had all the impetus to drive on and go firmly after Cork with 10 minutes remaining. “All of a sudden,” said Ger Canning in his match commentary, “there are shades of the 2020 Munster final.” 

There were, especially when Limerick won the subsequent Cork kick-out, which was their second in quick succession, and Paul Walsh was sent off moments later.

Josh Ryan kicked the resultant free wide but Limerick had all the momentum at just the right time. Cork certainly had their backs to the wall, but they won the kick-out and worked the ball up the field where Kevin O’Donovan was brought down for a penalty. When Brian Hurley coolly dispatched it to the net, Cork had firmly ridden out the storm to secure their passage to a precious All-Ireland quarter-final.

Cork will be happy to have got the job done but they’ll also know that they needed all the breaks that were going. Cork outscored Limerick by 1-3 to 0-0 during the 10 minutes that Limerick were reduced to 14 men on a harsh black card.

Limerick ran out of gas in the second half, much of which was probably down to being forced to expend that extra energy during the black card, as well as having operated at a lower level in Division 3 over the last few years.

Yet Limerick were physically wilting towards the end of the first half, while Cork had also visibly increased their energy and intensity in the second half before the black card. That decision ultimately decided the game but after only having a 53% conversion rate, and just 40% from play, in the opening half with the breeze, Cork nailed four of their first five shots after the break, three of which were scores from play.

Cork outscored Limerick by 1-5 to 0-2 in the third quarter. Even though Limerick came with real momentum in that last quarter, they only outscored Cork by one point in that period. Cork ended with a 64% conversion rate.

The black card and Cork’s superior conditioning has to be considered in the wider context of analysing this game, but Cork still made the right tactical adjustments after the break.

After having scored just 0-3 off their own kick-out in the opening 35 minutes, Cork mined 1-9 from that source in the second half.

One of the biggest areas of concern for Cork in the opening half was the ease at which Limerick were able to work the ball up the field from their short kick-out. Cork were getting a press on but it wasn’t strong enough and Limerick manufactured six shots off that possession, three of which were converted.


Cork could be accused of not being aggressive enough in the tackle or in hunting Limerick players down in possession but of the 10 turnovers Limerick gave up in the first half, eight were from Cork pressure in the tackle, which led to three Cork points.

Cork only turned over the ball six times in the opening half, two of which were from shots short or blocked. Cork only turned over the ball 11 times in total, coughing up just 0-3 from that possession.

Cork protected the ball well but this game was always going to come down to Cork’s inside forwards of Steven Sherlock, Brian Hurley and Cathail O’Mahony. 

From a combined 35 plays, those three players either scored (from play), assisted or were fouled for converted frees which amounted to a total of 1-10.

Hurley nailed his penalty while Sherlock’s conversion rate from placed balls was outstanding again, scoring six points from seven attempts.

After the game, Cavanagh had his say again. “It was a decent win,” he said. “But Cork are playing at their level really.” 

This may be Cork’s level but they’re still exactly where they want to be now, and building momentum and form all the time, and at the right stage of the season.

In his post-match TV interview, Sherlock said that, while Cork were beaten by Kerry, the players still took confidence from that performance. Two wins in the meantime has buttressed those confidence levels even more.

Cavanagh had serious issues with the perception around that Cork display against Kerry but it’s unfair – in terms of quality anyway – to compare Cork with Kerry at the moment.

Cork are still a long way off Kerry and the top teams but, for now, they’re in exactly the same position as everyone else left in the championship. And after the Kerry game in May, Cork would have grabbed that unlikely prospect with open arms.

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