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Cork's statistical attacking consistency gives them real shot at All-Ireland title

By Peter McNamara

Offensively, Cork’s statistics from their successful Munster SHC campaign make for extremely noteworthy and consistent reading.

Tallies of 2-23, 1-23, 1-25, 1-23 and, most recently, 2-24 suggests the Leesiders’ attack is working like clockwork.

As you can see, those returns represent a freakish level of consistency, in fact.

This is best illustrated by the fact the Rebels hit 2-23 and 2-24 respectively in their two meetings with Clare.

Additionally, John Meyler’s provincial champions raised 23 white flags in three of their five outings. And hardly deviated from that figure in the other two games with 24 and 25 respectively.

Talk about playing to form.

A welcome addition to their statistical attacking portfolio is that Cork scored at least one goal in each of their five Munster SHC matches.

As everybody will agree, Cork, in the last number of years, have contested many championship encounters without raising a green flag which, in the current climate, usually leaves you with a mountain to climb against the highest level of opposition.

In an All-Ireland semi-final, Meyler’s outfit will likely require two goals if they want to rock up at the big dance on August 19.

Yet, Cork are proving themselves to be more adept at goal-poaching in the last two campaigns. And this is an essential ingredient for success, probably more so than ever before due to how scientifically prepared every team is presently. Out-pointing the opposition, which is what Cork were noted for attempting in the past, albeit unintentionally, would not cut the mustard nowadays.

Central to their offensive output last Sunday, and as has been the case on countless previous occasions, was Patrick Horgan.

The Glen Rovers man is also relied upon to contribute in the region of 0-7 to 0-9 per game, the majority of which will be from placed balls.

However, there was just something a little different about Horgan in Thurles against the Banner.

There was a level of aggression in his display that was a notch above what we are used to from him and he made lots of positive plays happen at key moments in the match.

Séamus Harnedy was immense and awarded with the RTÉ Sunday Game Man of the Match award for his troubles. Yet, I felt Horgan’s immaculate performance deserved greater recognition than it has received nationally.

Maybe the theory that he is the victim of his own consistency holds some truth, but this was a definitive display in his Cork career.

He hit four monstrous scores in open play to complement his six frees and ’65.

We all would agree that is a sensational return from any player in a provincial final.

Yet, it was not just his scoring that marked him out as a match-winner for Meyler’s unit.

Not alone did he convert free after free after free, he also generated a lot of them via aggressive, hard running. And, given the sweltering heat in Semple Stadium, that must not have been easy by any means.

Maybe it was the way in which his championship ended last year that irked him so much, but Horgan seems like the cliched man on a mission.

Maybe he is aware that his opportunities to win an All-Ireland medal are running out.

However, maybe this year will be different for Horgan and Cork.

Maybe annexing the All-Ireland title will become reality. Yet, to achieve this they simply must eradicate defensive weaknesses.

The full-back line tends to come under intense pressure, for starters.

Of course, every team’s second-last line of the defence will not have it all plain sailing in any game.

And when a full-back line is in bother people point to a work-ethic deficiency further out the field as being the source of that problem.

Obviously, that theory is understandable in most cases. However, in this particular instance errors have also been made by the regular members of the full-back line itself.

Even removing the memories of John Conlon causing immense consternation in the first-half last Sunday, there have been other mistakes in the provincial campaign that the management will work on in the next few weeks ahead of the Rebels’ clash in the last four of the All-Ireland series.

Meyler and his selectors are aware that more consistency of performance is required as well.

Cork have produced sustained spells whereby they have been close to unplayable. Some threads in their play were fantastic.

You can see why the management are seeking greater consistency, though.

Nobody expects any side to be electric for 70-plus minutes. That is just unrealistic. But when Cork are not at it in a game, they can look quite ordinary. Reducing those periods in their matches will probably result in more silverware in the next 18 months to two years.

At least when the Leesiders are not operating at full tilt during a match, if they limit the opposition in terms of their capacity to score heavily in those spells, winning the All-Ireland title is not out of the question this summer.

To do this, Cork should consciously retreat into their own half and collectively swarm the opposition.

Leave, say, Harnedy up front on his own and withdraw everybody else to reduce the scoring opportunities for their opponents. It would be an approach at pains with how Cork like to play, but if it denies the opposition even three scores it could be the difference between success and failure.