Cork footballers need Leeside legends on the sideline

Nobody died, as Paul Kerrigan succinctly put it afterwards, standing outside the Cork dressing room in Fitzgerald Stadium, writes Peter McNamara.

The Rebels had just been humbled, again, by Kerry and the Nemo Rangers man was obviously gutted. However, Kerrigan retained the perspective of a character to match his years of experience as an inter-county senior footballer.

In a campaign thus far shy on highlights, Kerrigan’s realism in defeat allowed for the bigger picture to be viewed.

While many of the other players filed out of their haven under the terracing disconsolate, Kerrigan spoke more candidly than you would expect of a man in his position at that time.

Members of the media will tell you Kerrigan’s approach is always ‘honesty is the best policy’ anyway.

Yet, after Cork were tormented in the manner the side was, if there was ever a time he would dole out the clichés it would have been then.

It’s not his style, though. He appreciates the sporting knowledge of the Cork public. It would only be himself he would have been fooling by spouting rubbish, anyway.

Kerry were superior in most departments, of course. “Clinical” and “intensity” were the words he used to refer to the greater differences between the two teams.

He added: “Look, it’s Kerry, Dublin and then there’s the rest”. Amen.

There was a classy moment midway through the conversation, however, when legendary figure Maurice Fitzgerald ducked in among us to shake Kerrigan’s hand, acknowledging his contribution to the occasion.

There was something in the moment, though, that reiterated one of the key differentials between the two county set-ups at present.

Maurice Fitz, of course, is an individual every player in Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s squad would look on at in awe; hang on every word of his, so they would, one imagines.

And that is a theme running through Kerry’s set-up. The players are surrounded by totems of the code.

With the greatest of respect, you cannot say the same about Cork.

When Brian Cuthbert was in charge of the unit, his backroom team was adorned with Leeside legends.

Somehow, I cannot see the players being inspired by those presiding over them currently. That might sound harsh, and there are good people involved, but this is elite level sport and you need elite level mentors and characters steering the ship.

In saying that, Kerrigan was correct to repeatedly refer to the fact the players themselves need to remember their roles in where Cork now find themselves.

Currently, their performances are that of a team bereft of the belief required to truly drive into a game in an attempt to dictate the terms of engagement.

Do they really believe they are capable of competing and beating the likes of Kerry these days? Kerrigan is a self-motivated player who, in fairness, admitted himself even he can and needs to contribute more.

But what of the rest of the group? Ian Maguire, in the first-half, and Sean Powter, overall, fought the good fight from a Leeside standpoint.

However, greater courage is needed on days like Sunday, from the collective.

Kerrigan’s shout that nobody died, though, is valid in the context of Cork’s revised standing in the game.

Nowadays, their performances, at times, flirt with that of a Division 1 grading. More often, however, the Leesiders are operating akin to a top-half Division 2 outfit which is fair assessment.

The only way is up, though, next year, assuming a new management team will be in place. And it should be one again packed with Cork footballing personalities the present panel can relate to.

What of the Kingdom? Funnily enough, Fitzmaurice’s opinion they have plenty to work on was the first non-yerra-esque pitch from a Kerryman anybody heard all week.

That definitely isn’t a comment people should take with a pinch of salt, because they really do.

We can only really judge Kerry against the challenge Dublin will present to them assuming they meet in the All-Ireland series.

And you would have to say, based on the fact Cork carved them open for goalscoring opportunities a number of times, that Fitzmaurice should be concerned about that. Greatly, in fact.

When Jim Gavin released the handbrake in the second half of their league encounter in Tralee Dublin destroyed Kerry by directly running at their defence, particularly from angled darts left and right of centre.

And as soon as the Metropolitans were in a position to control the game again that night, Dublin reverted to their more methodical approach which, conversely, suited Fitzmaurice’s charges who forced a draw and could have won.

To be fair to Kerry on Sunday, they probably felt a sweeper was not necessary against Cork.

Yet, the hosts could have shipped at least three goals. Dublin will not be as forgiving as the Rebels were when they created those openings.

Ciarán Kilkenny would roam those areas and pick those locks for fun. That might be in the back of the minds of the Kerry management. And if it’s not, it should be because that is a potentially grave issue they could face.

Support runners aplenty will offer Kilkenny options off his shoulder and would Kerry avoid conceding green flags then? Highly unlikely.

Despite that question Fitzmaurice must ponder on their defensive stability, he will be seriously encouraged by the form of James O’Donoghue.

In the form he displayed last Sunday, there won’t be a defender in the game capable of negating his movement and finishing.

Anthony Maher, too, produced a superb midfield performance, probably one of his best for a while.

Stopping to reflect on a professional job well done afterwards, Maher discussed how physically sharp the side is following the winter slog.

“In the last couple of years operations had to be had and stuff like that. Things had to be done,” Maher explained. “It wasn’t anybody’s fault. But it is good that fellas are in better shape now.

“We put in a good winter. We seem to be in good physical condition this year.

“This is the first part of the summer over, though. It’s time to step it up a notch.”


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