Colm O’Neill has given Cork a fighting chance of beating Kerry in the Munster final, provided they have the courage to ‘‘go after Kerry and go for the jugular”.
The 30-year-old, who overcame three separate cruciate knee ligament injuries in his career, came on in last year’s heavy final defeat to Kerry before retiring weeks later due to fresh knee trouble.
The former All-Star said he is more confident of Cork winning this year’s final after watching Ronan McCarthy’s side find form after a terrible start to the season.
O’Neill attributed that initial slow start in the Allianz League to the team’s unfamiliarity with a new defensive style and said that when they decided to ‘go for it’ in subsequent games they fared much better.
“I was involved last year but I’d be a bit more confident this year funnily enough,” said O’Neill. “I was at the Limerick match and they were (good), not that Limerick were giving them a huge test but I think the way Cork played they were sharp and they took the game to Limerick, they didn’t sit back the way they had done in a couple of league matches, they went after Limerick.
“I hope they go and maybe do the same because if you sit back and draw Kerry onto you, with the forwards they have, they’re going to punish you so I’d hope that they go after Kerry and go for the jugular.”
O’Neill agreed it will take courage for Cork to play this way against a Kerry side chasing a seventh consecutive Munster title.
“It will, and I don’t mean go for it in terms of everyone just driving forward, it would be going for it in a similar way to how they did it against Limerick,” he said. “They weren’t totally open at the back but they weren’t defensive. I thought in the first few league games they maybe — and they might have been trying a new tactic — were sitting back trying a sweeper which probably isn’t Cork’s style. They weren’t sure how to play it and it probably cost them in the end in terms of the latter stages of the league.”
That’s why O’Neill feels the Allianz League rankings which currently place Clare as the second best team in Munster, following Cork and Tipperary’s relegation to Division 3, are misleading.
“Going down to Division 3 was not ideal but this is a totally different competition,” he said.
Rather, O’Neill feels Cork’s recent results — three wins in their last four competitive games — more accurately reflects their true ability and has urged them to push hard for a Super 8s place.
“I think they have a stronger panel as well this year,” said the former U21 star.
“A realistic goal at the start of the year was to make the Super 8s. If they win on Saturday night they’re straight into the Super 8s. If Kerry turn them over they are still one game away from the Super 8s. I think if they can get to the Super 8s it’s obviously going to be a huge benefit to them. They’ll have three extra games and who knows what will happen if they get to that stage of the championship.”
Asked if he genuinely believes Cork can beat Kerry in the Pairc Ui Chaoimh showdown, O’Neill nodded enthusiastically.
“I do, I do,” he said. “I’m getting that small bit of a positive sense from people I’m chatting to on the street and things. I definitely think there’s a belief in the squad. I definitely think they’re capable of turning them over.”
- Colm O’Neill, a selector with the Cork U20s, was speaking at the official launch of the 2019 EirGrid U20 football Championship.
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