COLM COOPER: Cork football is as close to rock bottom as it has been in decades

The idea that for Cork the only way is up is completely wrong. There’s new depths there to plummet, writes Colm Cooper.

What was the Cork football management expecting when they went to Dungarvan to face Waterford two weeks ago? I ask on the basis that they will presumably have a better sense of what they face, and how to overcome it, when they entertain Tipperary this evening in Páirc Uí Rinn.

The Cork players were confronted with a blanket defence in Waterford. Hardly ground-breaking. What else did they expect? Had they prepared properly by selecting horses-for-courses players to beat it? Had they practiced playing against it? The blanket defence is a formidable obstacle if you are not prepared for it. Given Cork’s performance, it’s nearly better to suggest they weren’t expecting it. But that raises its own questions too.

You have to move weaker teams around. Any of the top tier counties would have little difficulty with Waterford. Dublin, Kerry and Mayo have such a variety of pace and power, they find a way of breaking holes.

Elite players have the confidence in their own ability, in their colleagues, and in the game-plan to surmount most obstacles. Certainly, weaker opposition.

Evidently, Cork are playing with none of those things at the moment.

Cork football is as close, certainly that I can remember, to rock bottom as it’s been in decades. I suggested in my first Irish Examiner column they either don’t have confidence in what they are doing or where they are going. The near-debacle in Waterford proved as much. I still don’t feel they have created a game-plan they are settled with.

The top half dozen teams in the championship counties play a couple of ways. The top two or three can adjust to three, or even four, different styles for whatever the occasion demands. They have the players, the skillset, and the coaching to do that.

I don’t know what way Cork are playing. That’s alright. But Cork don’t look like they know what way they are playing either. Against Waterford, they selected Peter Kelleher at full-forward which indicated they wished to go direct, at least some of the time. I’ve not seen Cork evolve towards that style. That would make Cork a kicking team, and traditionally Cork are not a kicking team.

If a team does not formulate a specific game plan, or pick the right players to carry it out against the blanket defence, even the best footballers are going to spend their time running down blind alleys and going laterally all day.

My experience with Cork over 15 years and several managers is much the same: they will catch it, solo it, someone comes off the shoulder to take possession, someone comes off the next shoulder to take possession. There’s no yard made, and playing the likes of Waterford, now you can be guaranteed there will be 15 men standing between Cork and a shot.

The biggest challenge for Cork football isn’t whether Peadar Healy is the right manager or what has happened a glut of U21 players. And it’s not about going with a target man at full-forward either. It’s the need for their game as a whole to evolve, but that’s bigger picture stuff, and Cork hasn’t the breathing room with the way things are going at the moment to invest time into that.

Cork, traditionally, has not been a kicking team. Has there ever been a full forward they’ve kicked the ball into? Colin Corkery moved himself around into scoring positions. Even when Michael Cussen was there briefly for that purpose, he was often starved of the ball. It goes against everything they have worked on for the decades, so where are they now going with a Kelleher? Caught between a rock and a hard place.

It’s too early to say if they’re ready to change their football DNA. Cork is always athletically strong and powerful, but I’ve never come across a Cork team that’s surprised me. And that’s a coaching issue. I’ve played against plenty of Cork clubs too and it’s run, run, run. You don’t go in against Cork wondering what are they going to throw at you.

Predictability is a fatal flaw when it’s easily dealt with. I’d imagine Waterford manager, Tom McGlinchey’s video analysis the week before their game was fairly basic. ‘Lads, it’s obvious Cork are going to run from everywhere, so let’s put up a wall and hit everything that moves. That’s how we’ll turn them over’. The problem playing with such low confidence is that players will always revert to what they know. They will keep reverting to type.

Tipperary will smell blood tonight and will go for it if they’ve anything about them. Liam Kearns must anticipate a Cork backlash in front of their own supporters (who need to stick with the Cork players more than ever now), but the Tipp manager is also cute enough to know Cork has everything to lose.

The idea that for Cork the only way is up is completely wrong. There’s new depths there to plummet: Losing to Tipperary for a second consecutive championship season is bad enough, but losing an historic Munster final at home to (potentially) Kerry in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh would arguably be worse.

Kearns like to play the old soldier with absentees. Evan Comerford will be a loss for his kick-outs. But Cork also have major problems.

Aidan Walsh’s fitness, Eoin Cadogan’s readiness, Alan O’Connor suspended. In a team lacking genuine leaders, they’re serious handicaps for Peadar Healy.

I went through the Cork squad this week. There are nine or 10 players with over five years inter-county experience knocking around the squad. That’s long enough for them to be grabbing this thing by the throat. After that number of campaigns, you should have enough about you to be calling fellas out, to be setting higher standards. Not looking for someone else to do it for everyone.

I don’t think there’s a Cork player would get on the Kerry team at the moment. And it’s a while since I could say that. Paul Kerrigan is dangerous, any county would take him for what he brings. But is he better than James O’Donoghue or Paul Geaney?

What was Cork training was like the Tuesday night after the Waterford performance. Was there a reaction? Were fellas sowing into each other? I’ve been part of squads where we were at a low ebb, and we went into our own little bubble and pledged to right the wrongs.

Interestingly I read comments from Eoin Cadogan a couple of days after the Waterford game suggesting Cork footballers don’t get the love in their own county. I don’t know how smart that was. In his defence, he’s one of the leaders, but he hasn’t been playing. Eoin and the Cork boys should have been miles underground and declaring the whole world to be against them. It’s no coincidence there hasn’t been another word from the Cork camp after that. Put up or shut up.

If I was Liam Kearns, I’d be more worried by a Cork siege mentality than if they’d run up a cricket score in Dungarvan. He’ll assume, as many others will, that there’s a huge kick in a wounded Cork.

I am hoping — and expecting — a spark from Cork myself tonight which could ignite their summer.

But the evidence I’ve seen indicates if Tipperary do their business tonight, they haven’t much to fear.

No game in 10 weeks is a slight concern for Kerry

In Ennis tomorrow, Kerry land with a huge ‘X’ marked on their back.

You’d think a county with 37 All-Irelands would stroll into Cusack Park and drive over Clare, but I always got twitchy about these games. In 2014, after I’d damaged my knee, I was in the crowd in Ennis watching Clare give Kerry plenty of it. I don’t expect a Dungarvan-like scenario because Kerry will be on their guard.

Two things worry me about them, though, and they would be the same whoever the opposition.

Nobody should read too much into the league final. Kerry are not at Dublin’s level yet. They may be by August or September, but they are not yet. ‘We’ll be ready for Dublin’ is dangerous talk.

If that sort of mindsets seeps in, it’s a vulnerability. They’ve cracked nothing until they beat them in Championship.


Kerry and Éamonn Fitzmaurice (above) are too long around to think league wins mean that much. It does if they go on and win in September, because it’ll be the one that gave them that belief. But until then…?

There are also a few injury concerns, especially Killian Young and Shane Enright.

For Kerry to be competitive at the top end of the season, they need a full squad. They can’t afford injuries and suspensions. Killian is experienced. There was a mini collapse in the last 10 minutes of the league final, which has got overlooked.

I’d be surprised if Eamonn missed that in his analysis. How much football has a lot of Kerry’s players been involved in since the league? Johnny Buckley, Darran O’Sullivan, Peter Crowley, on top of Killian and Shane Enright. I never liked coming into championship not having played in 10 weeks. It’s a slight concern.

They’ll need Bryan Sheehan in some sort of form too. Even if it’s off the bench, there’s still a need for Sheehan.

In the autumn, it comes down the depth of the panel, the impact off the bench. Bryan is too good not to have some sort of a role.


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