Christy O'Connor on why Cork football need to be playing big games in Dublin

Rebels are highly unlikely to win in Croke Park but the experience of an All-Ireland quarter-final is crucial for a developing group of young players
Christy O'Connor on why Cork football need to be playing big games in Dublin

Limerick's Darragh Treacy is tackled by Cork's Colm O'Callaghan. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

FOR Cork football, it was an experience to behold and cherish because it has been such a rare sight.

In the aftermath of the win against Limerick, the Páirc Uí Chaoimh pitch was flooded with supporters and young kids hunting autographs and selfies with the Cork players.

The hurlers are used to that level of adulation but the footballers certainly haven’t been exposed to that warmth in an age. They haven’t recorded the victories to merit that kind of a response. It was just unfortunate that when Cork recorded their biggest win in over a decade against Kerry in November 2020 that the stadium was empty.

Historically, Cork would never get carried away with beating Limerick in the championship but the recent win had a far deeper meaning than what the result guaranteed — it was a game in the Park that granted the home supporters the opportunity to connect, and reconnect, with this team.

It also secured Cork a ticket back to Croke Park and take on Dublin, which is a stage where Cork football should be consistently looking to reach. There was some talk after the draw was made of playing the game in Cork, or in another venue, but, realistically, if Cork are to ever make that step up to the next level, Croke Park is where they need to be performing on a regular basis.

Cork have only played in Croke Park twice in the last seven seasons. 

The last two knockout championships skewed everything but, since Cork last played a Division 1 team in the championship in 2019 during that summer’s Super 8s, the only Division 1 side they’ve played in the championship since is Kerry.

Cork interim manager John Cleary is congratulated at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Cork interim manager John Cleary is congratulated at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Saturday is a re-emergence to that world because it’s been easy to forget where Cork have been lodging. The only four games Cork have won in league and championship in 2022 were against sides which were either in Division 3 this year, or which will be there in 2023.

LUCKY

Cork got lucky with the qualifier draw, but a largely inexperienced side has gradually found its footing. That was obvious too during the league when 15 players made their league debut.

After some hard lessons, Cork eventually worked their way out of the mire. But there will be even harder questions asked now because Cork are going up against a higher standard of player with a group largely devoid of experience at this level.

Only three of the players which featured against Limerick — Ian Maguire, Mattie Taylor and Brian Hurley — started against Dublin three years ago. Twelve of the players which played against Limerick have never played senior championship at Croke Park.

Kildare have been well used to playing at Headquarters. They ran Mayo close there two weeks ago. Kildare had performed reasonably well in the 2021 Leinster final against Dublin. They beat them in this year’s league but Kildare were blown away by a much more ruthless Dublin side in the Leinster final four weeks ago.

Dublin went for goals early to knock Kildare’s confidence and they will have a similar target in mind with Cork.

Can Cork compete with Dublin? Limerick had 43 attacks and got off 28 shots but they only had a shooting efficiency of 61%. How many scores would Dublin generate off that volume of attacks?

Limerick sourced 1-9 off their own kick-out, but 0-7 of that total came off short kick-outs, which has been a big issue for Cork all season. The big conundrum Cork will have here is risking too high a press considering the damage Dublin can do off their long kick-outs with the ball-winners they have around the middle third.

The most impressive aspect of Cork’s display against Limerick was how they only turned the ball over 11 times, conceding just 0-3 off that possession. It will be much harder to guard possession against Dublin but Cork have to protect the ball or Dublin will murder them on turnovers.

Cork got 1-12 off kick-outs against Limerick and they proved the damage their inside forward line can do with a plentiful supply. Cathail O’Mahony, Steven Sherlock and Brian Hurley either scored, assisted or were fouled for 1-10 but that total could have been far higher. Hurley and Sherlock had three wides each, while O’Mahony dropped one shot short and had another attempt blocked.

It’s unlikely that those three will get anything near that volume of ball (a combined 35 possessions), but they’ll have to be far more efficient with less possession here.

Sherlock’s conversion rate from placed balls though has been a boon and is a real comfort going into this match; his conversion rate against Kerry and Limerick was a hugely impressive 92%.

Cork will need all of their big performers to play well, especially Ian Maguire and Seán Powter. Against Limerick, Powter was involved in four turnovers, while he was fouled for a free and was involved in another score.

Four of Powter’s 13 plays were in an attacking position and he will be at the centre of that balance Cork will need to find between being set up well enough to stop Dublin opening them up, and being adventurous enough to get Cork’s main men up front on the ball enough.

It’s a huge ask but at least Cork are here. That is only a very minor start but it’s where Cork need to be if they are to gradually climb up the ladder to this level.

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