MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Cork have all winter to learn hard lessons

Deviation from plan that worked against Déise plays into hands of canny Galway.

Experience keeps a dear school, yet fools will learn in no other. Benjamin Franklin was being a little harsh there, however.

Plenty of wise men have found reality a better instructor than dry theory echoing in a classroom.

Cork, for instance, found experience an unforgiving teacher yesterday in Croke Park. The example you can expect most viewers to pick is Fergal Moore’s shuddering — and legal — block-and-shoulder early doors on Conor Lehane.

True, the Cork player took one stride too many out of a routine point chance and paid the penalty, but for the Cork team the second half was the real learning curve.

Against Waterford in the All-Ireland quarter-final, Cork hadn’t panicked when trailing by three points in the final quarter. They’d worked the ball down the wings, engineered point chances and overhauled the Déise.

Yesterday they didn’t, hitting in high ball to a small full-forward line when the tactics which worked so well in Thurles might have been more fruitful.

“Galway are a very good team, a very experienced team, and I think we showed a bit of inexperience at times, at that crucial time in the second half,” said Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy.

“I thought we crowded it a bit in the forward line, but Galway were very strong under the high ball, in particular. And I don’t think we were in a position of dominance out the field to deliver pinpoint ball into our forwards the way we would have liked. We weren’t able to get in the quality delivery we wanted.”

Barry-Murphy’s words were echoed by experienced wing-back Tom Kenny: “For a while we were clearing the ball, they were clearing the ball, they were dropping deeper and deeper and the ball we were sending in to the forwards probably wasn’t to the forwards’ advantage.

“It’d be great to be here and say that’s something you could look at for the final, but we’ll have to mull it over now for the winter. Their backs got on top for the last 15, 20 minutes and we didn’t have an answer to it.”

One of the great cliches in GAA commentary is the indictment of a team for failing to ‘close it out’, as though one could lay a wall of breeze-blocks across the 21 to stop the opposition from scoring. But Barry-Murphy and Kenny both identified the basic problem with Cork’s second half — they won the ball but were forced to hit high, hanging deliveries on top of a full-forward line built for direct ball into the corner.

It was hardly surprising that four of the starting six forwards in red were withdrawn before the end.

Still, when the disappointment dissipates Barry-Murphy and his backroom will acknowledge the green shoots of recovery. The game yesterday was relatively loose for long periods, for instance, which suited Cork; a supposed lack of suffocating intensity in Cork games has been criticised by some commentators. But it’s hardly an accident that the Leesiders have succeeded in opening up games rather than insisting on confrontation.

The challenge for the backroom team in red and white is to get their team to maintain that approach rather than falling back on the GAA nuclear option — dropping the ball in around the square and hoping for a goal.

True, Pa Cronin’s goal chance came when he was moved to full-forward. But would goals be necessary if Cork had managed to stick with the template which served them so well against Waterford?

A question for winter, and one Cork can set about answering in the classrooms of next spring.


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