The current reality of Cork football is that they take the wins as and when they come.
Questions must, and are, asked, of course, how they have come to this pass, but if the day one target was to occupy one of the shiny new dressing rooms at their own €80m Páirc Uí Chaoimh on July 2, they have achieved that much.
Of course, Cork football’s ambition should be somewhat north of that. In a widescreen context, they embarrassed themselves in front of their own people and a national television audience with one point in a diabolical first-half on Saturday, played — if that’s the right term — with use of a wind and Tipperary without their best player for half of it.
But within the realm of torment where Cork players exist, scarcely discernible advances are still forward steps, even if one-point squeakers over Waterford and Tipp are no more than that.
There are only 30-odd people in the county dealing with the “terrible battering”, as Peadar Healy called it, the Cork players are taking, and what that is doing to their self- esteem, only they know.
But the evidence of a scarcely believable first-half on Saturday indicates the pressure is suffocating many of them.
The handful of Cork optimists who travelled to the Boreenmanna Road with their glasses half-full had them topped up with a more dynamic second half, a brilliantly-constructed last-ditch winning goal, and impressive contributions from a quartet of young lads who’ve hardly started shaving.
And perhaps that is the most pertinent positive for Cork to be taken from Páirc Ui Rinn on Saturday.
That alongside experienced senior citizens, they need to sprinkle the effervescence of youth provided by man-of-the-match Kevin Crowley and the likes of Seanie Powter, Michael Hurley and Gary Murphy.
That they need to stop bamboozling themselves with square pegs in round holes and play with the handbrake off. It’s a no-brainer for the immediate future, which is a Munster final against Kerry, as much as it is for the medium and long term.
Luke Connolly too is an enigmatic sort, but he’s got confidence, scoring ability, and two good feet and how many of those are in the Cork attacking arsenal?
He missed plenty against Tipp, turned the ball over more than he should (at least by modern-game metrics), and yet managed 1-2, including the match-winning goal in the game’s 70th minute.
If Cork are to persist with Nemo hot-and-cold man, however, it can hardly be at the expense of Mark Collins, inexplicably left out of the starting line-up against Tipperary, presumably in favour of someone who’s better at ‘dirty ball’.
Where some looked to hand on the responsibility of doing something positive with the ball to others, the likes of Collins, Connolly, James Loughrey and Paul Kerrigan set about digging Cork out of this dreadful stupor they’re in.
The eventual winners looked tentative, ponderous and a yard slower in mind and legs than Tipperary in the opening 40 minutes, but there’s every chance it’s because they were paralysed by fear.
When Conor Sweeney put Tipp 0-6 to 0-1 in front a minute after the break, the contractors toiling to have Páirc Ui Chaoimh ready for its July 2 bow breathed a little easier. The drying paint down the Marina was more watchable than Cork’s offering to that point. Their supporters were either too stupified or stunned to boo at the break.
“The players took control of the dressing room (at half-time), they knew the performance wasn’t good enough. They are critical and hard on themselves,” Healy said afterwards. As they should be.
Things got better, but even then, there were bad misses from Connolly, Kerrigan, Donncha O’Connor and Barry O’Driscoll, as Cork’s total of 16 shooting wides mounted. Colm O’Neill was anonymous.
There were excuses to ride out on, not least the 69th minute Sweeney goal that put Tipp 1-9 to 0-10 ahead. Healy felt the response to Tipp’s goal was ‘fantastic’, and in its construction — Barry O’Driscoll, Mark Collins, Michael Hurley, Collins again and Connolly — it involved many of those who stepped up in the second-half.
But it also had the sense of manic desperation, of playing without a handbrake, that has always made Cork such formidable foes for anyone. When the debate over who to play full- forward, whether to run or kick is over, Cork would do well to remind themselves of that moment.
hey’d do well too to remember that these footballers owe the Cork public, not the other way around. Maybe the post-mortems should reflect that narrative, that whatever public or media ‘bashing and battering’ they’ve got, Cork deserve it.
They’re not getting the love because they’ve done nothing to earn it. Scraping home against Waterford and beating Tipp at home with a last-ditch goal is not good enough — nor is a member of their management team confronting a journalist afterwards over what he’d written the day of the game. There are greater priorities hopefully.
Elsewhere, Peadar Healy was talking about the ‘experts’ in the TV gantry. “The smallest pitch here is that corner above there where the most football is being played.”
It was good to hear Healy say “we try to bring the whole thing back to focusing on ourselves,” because TV analysts Colm O’Rourke and Colm Cooper would have little bother garnering more than a point between them in the first-half on Saturday — without removing their suits.
“We missed an awful lot of scores, was it nine, in the first-half. One point, two goal chances missed, not a good return,” Healy said.
“And it put us under savage pressure. If Colm (O’Neill) had scored that goal with the first chance we got, it could have settled us into the game.”
The only logical conclusion from this odd affair is Cork will be filleted by Kerry in the Munster final, but since when did logic apply to this Cork group?
Healy says the Kingdom would be “out the gate and on the bus to Killarney at half-time” if Cork stumble onto the new Páirc with foggy heads and heavy legs.
They hardly will.
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