Only at Páirc Ui Rinn after an 11-point spring dusting of the All-Ireland champions could a Cork football man in sackcloth and ashes welcome a Kerryman at the dressing room door by querying ‘when are ye going to stop taking the piss out of us like this?’
Oddly Eamonn Fitzmaurice didn’t share the joke. Nor did his group of players who stormed across the Boreenmanna Road afterwards to their team bus with faces of thunder.
Safe to assume the post-match meal at the Kingsley Hotel was more picture than sound.
And so we wondered of Brian Cuthbert, the Cork manager, whether yesterday’s 3-17 to 2-9 victors would be as dismissive of the result if it was the other way around? I’m fairly certain the Cork supporters wouldn’t be.
Excluding a 10 minute spell before half-time, Kerry were desperately poor. Shapeless, predictable, one-dimensional, as bad as they were when Cork hosed them in Tralee a year ago. These things happen to the best sides, even in March, but the alarming aspect was the inconsistency when stood alongside the vigorous display in their Killarney defeat of Dublin seven days earlier. There’s comfort there for every two-bit coach in the land this morning.
But in searching for answers to Fitzmaurice’s “one-million dollar question” — as he labelled the inquest into what happened at Páirc Ui Rinn — why is everyone looking anywhere but at Cork?
By bringing Pat Flanagan in as their physical coach this season, Cork have added All-Ireland winning nous to their backroom team, old school values that have been augmented by the return of Ronan McCarthy as a selector.
On the field, they’re building a folder of game-smarts that should ensure they suffer no more summer shellackings. Jamie O’Sullivan, Tomás Clancy, Conor Dorman have all gained ground this year (helped by UCC in the case of the latter pair), and when the summer comes, maybe Eoin Cadogan will be Ian Maguire’s midfield partner.
Someone said last year that Cadogan could never play midfield because he didn’t have “good hands“, which surprised given what tools a modern-day centre-fielder requires — a massive engine, good defensive awareness, and an ability to link the lines. On the latter point, few have improved as noticeably this season as Cadogan has with his kick-passing and ball skills. He was a podium player for Cork yesterday, along with O’Sullivan and Colm O’Neill Beyond midfield, where Kerry got precisely zero from the starting half-forward line yesterday, Cork’s equivalent trio of the O’Driscoll brothers and John O’Rourke from West Cork, contributed 2-4. When he was introduced for O’Rourke, Donncha O’Connor added four more points.
What’s impressive about Cork’s four national league outings has been consistency of general performance. Nothing to have them high-fiving in the dug-out, but a solid, rounded quartet of displays against Dublin, Monaghan, Donegal and Kerry. Putting 3-17 on Kerry was a cherry on top. Now another interesting challenge awaits them on Sunday in Omagh against Mickey Harte’s structured systems.
Those seeking to condemn Cork with a calendar have got to the front door of the dressing room if Cuthbert’s comments can be taken at face value. This time last year he was giddy after defeating Kildare in Páirc Ui Rinn: “Who knows where this might end for us?’ Now, he looks at the league table, not the opposition.
“It’s chasing two points. I’m not trying to be smart, I’m not trying to play it down but the reality is that it’s just chasing two points every week you go out because, especially with our fixtures schedule — four trips to the north — points aren’t won easy.”
They’ve six now. And just like their opening League game against Dublin at the same venue, when Cork looked in need of smelling salts yesterday for about 10 first half minutes, they found a way to halt opposition momentum — even if that was via a bit of old-fashioned schemozzling. By the time the dust had settled on a spat that began with Eoin Cadogan and Anthony Maher, Cork had stabilised things and added three good points before half-time to lead 3-7 to 2-6.
Fitzmaurice couldn’t summon a positive to galvanise him for the trip home. By the time he’d mulled over the Red Sea defending in the first 20 minutes — Cork got three goals, but should have had five — and the lifeless second half effort, the team coach had rolled into Killarney.
Donegal might run into the full force of a rebound on Sunday in Tralee. And just as Cuthbert won’t get giddy, Fitzmaurice won’t panic.