In many ways, yesterday’s Cork-Kildare game began as you’d expect.
Cork started off raw and didn’t hit the high notes early on. They were sluggish in general play, but the significant thing was that they got goal opportunities, and when they did they slotted them.
And in fairness, for most of that first half they needed a bit of a cushion, because Kildare were overrunning them. Early on, when it was close and messy, there were a lot of handling errors on both sides, which didn’t surprise me, particularly with the lack of championship outings this year for Cork.
Cork haven’t had three games of importance since the end of March when they played the league final — after that they had the Munster semi-final against Kerry, while the Munster final itself was a stroll in the park.
Once Cork got into their rhythm, though, there was only one team in it. I know that Kildare ended up having 14 on the field, but that had no bearing on the result. Cork played themselves into it and blew Kildare away, basically.
Cork defended well and put good moves together, but I think the crucial extra dimension this season is that they’re going long with some ball, which they were shy of doing in the last few years. They were criticised for that in different quarters, for being too lateral, but Conor (Counihan) and the management wouldn’t be paying too much attention to pundits. They’ll do their own thing, and they’re right, but Nicholas Murphy has given them an extra dimension in around the square — you can drop the ball in on him and even though it might be a hanging ball he’s so good in the air that he’ll be able to get onto it.
Having gotten over yesterday’s game, they should certainly be the better for it; they’ll definitely have a bit of freshness for the semi-final. It was interesting that all the provincial champions came through this weekend, and it’ll be even more interesting to see if they benefit from not having slogged through the qualifiers; that freshness could stand to a couple of those teams now that they’ve survived the quarter-finals.
As for Cork’s opponents the next day, it was evident that Donegal frustrated Kerry for long periods, turning them over for when in possession. Kerry players looked up and with nothing on, turned around and threw the ball back, and a lot of those moves eventually broke down.
I think Donegal may find it difficult the next day out against Cork. You could mark Donncha O’Connor and Colm O’Neill, say, but Paul Kerrigan and Ciarán Sheehan could come through as winners. It’s asking a lot of any team to mark the six of them out of a game.
What’s also encouraging for Cork is that their forwards are good to kick points from 35, 40 yards out — that’s a huge asset for any team — while they’re all able to win their own ball. That’s going to be crucial — if you have a forward winning his own ball then you let the ball into him and the blanket defence, no matter how good it is, will struggle.
I’d been expecting a Kerry win, to be honest. Donegal had beaten Tyrone in a close game in Ulster and we saw how they went against Kerry, while Donegal beat Down in the Ulster final and they were outclassed by Mayo on Saturday night. Based on what I’d seen, the Munster championship was as good as there was around and that inclined me towards Kerry.
Having said that, the difference between Donegal and Kerry was a poxy goal! One last thing that impressed me about Cork’s win — Kildare threatened to overrun Cork after 15 minutes. Cork had a long stretch without scoring, and even going back to my own time there might have been a bit of panic setting in.
This Cork team didn’t panic, though; they could have gone down blind alleys, but they didn’t. They were patient and took the right options and got back into it. That kind of patience and experience could be vital yet.
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