Bill Cooper and Darragh Fitzgibbon now Cork's dynamic duo

The sharpshooters get all the glory,writes Peter McNamara.

That, of course, is the nature of the beast when it comes to team sports.

Alan Cadogan, with 1-4 from play to his name, was correctly selected as the RTÉ Man of the Match while Patrick Horgan’s tally of 0-13 including 10 converted frees was lauded, also correctly, for its remarkableness in a Munster SHC final.

In all, eight Cork men put their names on the scoresheet. However, of the starters whose names did not light up the newspapers on Monday morning as scoring contributors, two were particularly outstanding for the Leesiders in Semple Stadium.

File photo of Cork's Bill Cooper.

At the start of the year, very few outside of Cork would have foreseen Bill Cooper and Darragh Fitzgibbon, scorer of 0-1, as a championship midfield pairing.

In fact, even on Leeside you would have gotten a few quizzical glances for suggesting those two would be combining their qualities to such effect in the middle-third.

Yet, a year on from Cork’s shambolic exit to Wexford in the All-Ireland series, there they were, careering through Clare’s defence in a Munster final, driving Kieran Kingston’s Rebels on to an altogether different territory, one that could lead to the promised land of a September harvest.

Cooper, in particular, scaled new heights as a senior inter-county performer on Sunday.

The Youghal man has been knocking about for a number of campaigns now but this year, and especially in the provincial championship, he has gone about his business in an understated but meticulous fashion.

His thundering hit on Kevin Moran during the three-match Munster sequence was as iconic as Damien Cahalane’s magical sprint that brought Cork across the finishing line on Sunday.

People will remember Cooper powering Moran to the canvas. They will also pinpoint his work-ethic and commitment challenging for vital possessions. Yet, what might get overlooked are the subtle contributions he makes.

Cooper’s awareness is now one of his greatest strengths. A lot of midfielders will battle all day for you however, may not possess the velvet glove to complement their iron will.

Cooper has added a crucial component to his individual arsenal and that is an ability to develop plays in a clever manner.

He links with players in his immediate vicinity extremely well and it is a major reason behind Cork’s evolution this summer.

And these are not necessarily long-range passes but the four- to eight-yarders that can take an opposing player or two out of the game in a split-second thus opening the central channels for those attempting to break the line.

Cooper is maturing as a player all of the time and understands his role in the side better than ever.

In years gone by, he would have taken shots on that were maybe questionable from a decision-making standpoint.

Nowadays, Cooper’s primary aim is to assist others as they try to locate the snipers further up-field.

It was ironic that Moran was the player prostrate on the ground following a collision with Cooper as the latter’s game is now so similar to that of the De La Salle man.

Moran is noted for his intelligent pop-passes and positional sense and now Cooper is in that mould.

His game has become more polished with experience and it is the two half lines that are getting the most benefit out of that.

Cooper’s presence in Croke Park could be an essential ingredient of any potential All-Ireland semi-final victory.

There is a theory Cork’s pace will be seen to its greatest impact at headquarters but when they get there, keep an eye out for how Cooper’s grace with ball in-hand leads to the release of so many runners off of his shoulders.

Cooper was simply immense in the middle sector against Clare. So too, though, was Fitzgibbon.

The duo complement each other with Fitzgibbon’s speed providing the ideal counter-balance to Cooper’s ever-increasing presence of mind and craft.

The Charleville man made one particularly outstanding play in the first-half that both lifted his team and the sea of red around the ground.

Bursting through that central channel he was moving through the gears en route to goal only to be fouled for a converted Horgan free.

That type of direct running will be a factor at the last-four stage. Fitzgibbon should be encouraged to test the opposing half-back line by drilling into that space between the halfway line and the area just beyond the half-back line.

Michael Breen causes opposing defences untold problems when he does this and Fitzgibbon’s pace could be utilised in the same vein.

Thing is, when either of Cooper or Fitzgibbon have emptied themselves, Cork are privileged to have a trump card in Daniel Kearney.

How many counties could afford to hold the Sarsfields man in reserve?

Yet, the last person opposing midfielders would want to see entering the championship cauldron in the final quarter is a player of his calibre and energy.

So Cork are in a good place in terms of the strength of their midfield battalion.

However, where do the Leesiders rank overall out of the six remaining teams?

I would say third behind top-ranked Tipperary and second-placed Galway.

Both of those units are further down their respective roads of development, especially the Premier.

Additionally, the Banner had 15 wides last Sunday. Cork, obviously, were not exactly impeccable with their shooting either. Yet, a lot more of the wides Clare hit were unacceptable at the level in question given the angles and distances from which they were struck.

Therefore, Kieran Kingston's constant referrals to the fact the Rebels really are a work in progress are justified.

Kingston, too, it must be said, is a shrewd manager. And you could even argue he has not gotten the level of kudos he deserves for the job he is doing.

The likes of Diarmuid O'Sullivan and superb coach Pat Ryan are regularly praised by Kingston but the Tracton man is tying everything together nicely at the helm.

The entire set-up is sweetly balanced and they are all singing off of the same hymn sheet.

Nobody's resting on their laurels, though. There's much more to do.


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