Waking up this morning to re-watch Saturday night’s Munster final, I began to wonder if it was really as bad as it seemed in the flesh at Páirc Uí Chaoimh?
It was worse. A lot worse.
Just six scores over 70 minutes in ideal conditions tells only part of the horror show that unfolded.
It gives me no pleasure to put the boot in to this Cork group of players or management, they will have woken up today in a very dark place.
It was only four summers ago that I was involved myself in the most embarrassing team performance I was ever involved with. Kerry won by 12 that day.
First things first in term of analysing this game: Kerry are a far superior team to Cork. The fact is, regardless of tactics, Kerry were never going to lose this game.
This is not a knee jerk reaction to this mauling, this is a widely accepted truism. Kerry are second-favourites for the All Ireland, backboned by some of the best players in the game such as Paul Geaney, James O’Donoghue, Paul Murphy and David Moran.
Those marquee names are ably supported by wonderkids David Clifford, Seánie O’Shea and a host of other multiple All-Ireland minor winners.
Cork are miles off that standard. There has been a fairly stark drop off in standard since Conor Counihan’s time in charge. From 2007 to 2013 Cork competed in three All-Ireland finals, two semi-finals and two quarter-finals.
Since then, a draw with Kerry in the 2015 Munster final and qualifier wins over Sligo, Limerick and Longford is all Cork have to shout about.
Kerry are Munster Football Champions! pic.twitter.com/7YyEGh6iJ5— The GAA (@officialgaa) June 23, 2018
The players looked inferior to their neighbours in every facet of the game Saturday: aggression, tackling, speed, power, skills.
Ronan McCarthy has been preaching about remaining consistent in response to victories and defeats. How he responds to this loss will be interesting.
Yet it all started so brightly for Cork. As the teams went to their starting positions I started scanning around looking for the match-ups.
Paul Murphy marking Ruairí Deane caught my eye, given that Deane located himself at the edge of the square for the throw in.
After just two minutes that tactical move had paid dividends for Cork with Deane fetching a high ball and placing Jamie O’Sullivan for an easy tap in.
I was surprised Kerry allowed a mismatch in size like that to happen so early in the game, but don’t expect Eamonn Fitzmaurice to get caught on the hop again.
Despite Luke Connolly scoring a peach with the outside of his left boot on eleven minutes to push Cork ahead by 2-1 to 1-2 a worrying pattern had already emerged.
Cork had as expected looked to get a sweeper in position and to filter numbers back.
This was manna from heaven for Kerry as they worked the ball forward at pace at their ease. The brilliance of the Kerry performance was that they played the game as they saw it.
If Cork dropped off Kerry ran at them and created overlaps with fast hands and impeccable skills.
However they always looked first to see if they could kick it through the lines. A little pop pass to the corners and runners coming off them to devastating effect.
Cork, on the other hand, fell into a trap that so many teams do in the modern game. Cork essentially ended up playing with no half-forward line and two men isolated in the full forward line.
As a result Kerry squeezed up on Cork around the middle third forcing slow and ponderous lateral play, safe in the knowledge that Cork’s only out ball was a 60 yard Hail Mary.
Anybody who has played the game to a decent level knows a straight pass like this to a forward running straight out is a back’s ball all day long.
They can afford to attack the ball aggressively and break it knowing it’s unlikely the forward can turn them on a sixpence under that pressure.
The importance of having at least one link man on the 40 cannot be overstated as it allows teams play through the lines. A half forward’s run should almost always be across the field.
This allows you time to look to the full forward line before you collect the ball and be ready to move the ball forward again first time. The absence of this half-forward line killed Cork.
Contrast this to Kerry’s style of play with lateral runs ensuring forwards aren’t ending up further out the field and less of a threat.
A heat map would be interesting to see where both sets of forwards spent most of their time. With the exception of Micheál Burns the remaining five Kerry forwards are guaranteed their starting berths at this stage.
All natural forwards who want to spend their time inside the opposition 65.
Cork adopt a different approach and at least two of the starting Cork forwards spent more time in their own half of the field.
I praised Cork management for changing tactically in the first half against Tipperary, but Cork seemed to persist with a failing system for far too long on Saturday.
To be fair to them, any potential alterations would have felt like re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.
To compound matters for Cork, their skill level was well below the required standard.
Balls were fumbled, hand passes went behind the recipient, to the floor and anywhere but into his stride. Kerry’s tenacity in the tackle forced a number of turnovers.
Everybody marvels at the physique and athleticism of this great Dublin team but what is often overlooked is their ability to continually perform the simple skills correctly.
Football is a simple game, Cork made it look very difficult.
A lot of punters, myself included, had pinpointed midfield as the critical area of the field from a Cork point of view.
Kickouts had been a major factor in Cork’s semi-final victory but Kerry ‘hammered the hammer’ on Saturday night. Kerry’s zonal press worked wonders.
They tempted Mark White into trying kickouts very wide to the corners back while covering space further out the field. An early overhit kick-out from White over the sideline dented his confidence and meant that he played safe and went long for the majority of kick-outs.
As I expected Kerry’s high fielding ability became a prominent feature.
They also surprisingly cleaned Cork out on breaking ball. This isn’t just about hunger and aggression but about being in the right place at the right time.
Staying zonal on kickouts means that as a half forward you are closer to midfield than the opposition half back when the ball is kicked.
Cork half-backs made tentative efforts to show short but runs were covered by Kerry’s inside line defending narrow zonally.
As a result time and time again it was green and gold jerseys arriving to the breaking ball first.
Saturday night put a spanner in the works.
With just two weeks before Cork enter the qualifiers, they’ve no time to feel sorry for themselves. Four years ago, following the trouncing at the hands of Kerry, a major overhaul of tactics and personnel was carried out.
A blanket defence system was implemented in the space of a few weeks before overcoming Sligo.
I don’t expect Ronan McCarthy to look for a short-term fix this time, but neither can Cork expect such a generous draw to help the recovery process.
It is unlikely Cork can improve massively in any technical or tactical aspect of the game but attitude and intensity is something that can be worked on.
Cork are still just one win away from the Super 8s.
There is still a glimmer of hope.
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