THE Cork footballers might be forgiven for thinking that they get enough criticism within their own county bounds that they do not really need additional flack heading their way from other parts of the country.
We’ve all probably heard statements from frustrated Corkonians such as “you can’t trust the footballers”, or “the footballers will always let you down”; a thousand variations of the same, usually uttered in the aftermath of some painful loss.
They are understandable when the relevant defeat is still fresh and extremely raw, but ultimately unfair, as they have given us some great days too, even if we would prefer if some of those days were more recent.
So, when controversial gaelic football pundit Joe Brolly decided to unleash on Cork, in his newspaper column in, in the aftermath of their 3-14 to 0-19 defeat to Meath in the opening round of the league, the panel had to run for cover.
“Cork suffer from acute solorunitis. The symptoms are highly contagious but easily spotted.
“Sufferer takes possession from hand-pass. Puts head down. Solos hard until he runs into something or someone. Looks up, but not before then. Hand-passes to fellow sufferer, who puts head down, solos hard until he runs into something or someone. Looks up, but not before then. Hand-passes to fellow sufferer. And so on…
“Cork were furiously soloing up each other’s arses, being dispossessed and wasting colossal amounts of energy.”
And the thing about the above is that it was probably fair, based on that one game.
In that defeat, there were obvious areas of concern around goal concessions, caused by the spine of the defence being too open, the tackle technique not being up to scratch, the lack of cynicism and the inability to work the ball quickly up the pitch through accurate kick-passing.
Have no mistake about it, after losing to Meath relegation to Division 3 and failure to qualify for the All-Ireland championship proper was very much on the cards, as most assumed that Cork would be pointless after the Kildare and Dublin games.
The thinking was that Cork manager John Cleary may have to rip up his plans and redeploy Sean Powter back into a defensive position to shore up the rearguard that had shipped three soft goals, which would be viewed as a retrograde step in terms of what this managerial team is attempting to achieve with this group.
None of us were privy to the conversations that took place around the Cork panel in the aftermath of that defeat, but given the performance levels seven days later we can probably guess that were of the “honest” variety.
The mood got completely turned on its head up in Newbridge. Kildare were expecting a home victory on the back of coming so close to Dublin in Croke Park the week before. Instead, they got annihilated by a slick Cork side who seemed to have learned a lot of lessons in the space of a week.
The 0-7 to 2-14 result certainly raised eyebrows nationally.
Just as nobody should have been panicking on the back of one defeat, no one should be getting too excited after the win against Kildare. We will not be borrowing Kieran Donaghy’s famous quote: “what did you think of that Joe Brolly?” just yet. This Cork team is very much a work in progress, but the signs are there that they are going in the right direction.
There seems to be a balance developing throughout the side that we have not seen in some time. The concession of 3-14 to Meath was certainly a worry, but there are plenty of defenders putting their hands up in recent weeks for Cork and UCC, in the Sigerson, so Cleary certainly has options there, while Ian Maguire and Colm O’Callaghan are threatening to become a quality midfield pairing.
The full-forward line possesses a number of quality sharpshooters, but it is the half-forward line where Cork is arguably seeing the biggest improvement, with Powter able to drive the team from areas that can hurt opposition, while the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and Ruairi Deane have returned to add experience, size and a bit of cutting that was not there previously.
A bit of consistency would be good to see now, with less of the one-step forward, one-step back routine that sometimes makes the Cork footballers resemble a contestant on.
A win is no longer a must against Dublin this weekend, although it would certainly be nice, but a solid performance is certainly something that would show that this side is going places.