What excuses have Cork left? Following the 2013 Munster final defeat 12 months ago, it was suggested they lacked leadership on the field and indeed direction on the sideline.
A year later this Cork team with a new management panel, lightened with the loss of significant ‘dead weight’, freshened by the introduction of new players and the return to form of key players from injury displayed exactly the same misgivings. In addition though was a lack of passion, heart and desire. Last night they went home with their heads in their hands, unable to discuss the shame of defeat with anyone who wants to seriously examine where it went wrong.
Far away from Páirc Uí Chaoimh arose the first problem. Players simply cannot serve two managers.
The trio of dual players must decide which sport they wish to play at the top level. There is no shame in this.
Conal Keaney decided that playing both sports meant that he was mediocre in both but not brilliant in either. His decision to play hurling was a loss to the then Dublin management team but this has been a very fruitful and rewarding pathway for him to travel. Except for the first ball, Aidan Walsh failed to catch a single ball whether he was under pressure or not. The breaking ball statistics in favour of Kerry were a stark reminder at half time that this wasn’t acceptable.
Eoin Cadogan fared no better in his duel with Paul Geaney, while the excellent Johnny Buckley could scarcely believe the freedom he was given by Damien Cahalane.
At the top level where Cork aim to be, many small things like fielding, awareness of space and reading of the game only improve if you are fully immersed in the sport.
It’s time to stand by the courage of your conviction and decide which sport to concentrate on. People will respect this.
In April’s league fixture Cork scored a remarkable2-18 with Brian Hurley scoring eight points on Mark Griffin.
Yesterday Brian failed to score from play until the 69th minute and registered only one wide before that. The impressive Shane Enright wasn’t the only reason for this. A large responsibility must lie at the ability of the middle eight to deliver simple passes into the effective scoring zone where Brian starts his runs.
Worthy of note and possibility unrelated are the warm-up routines of both teams. Cork had a preference to do multiple high-tempo fist passing drills whereas Kerry’s preference was to practice kick passing for 20 minutes. Their ability to remain composed in possession and pick a simple pass to a forward within the effective scoring zone was unmatched by anyone on the Cork team. The result was that Hurley time and time again, collected passes well outside any danger zone.
In contrast, Kerry’s O’Donoghue and Geaney gave an exhibition of intelligent running, ball retention and decision making in possession. They were always dangerous and asked questions of their opponent. I am certain that never before have Michael Shields and Eoin Cadogan received such a roasting.
This leads us to the team selections. Cork opted to play Paddy Kelly in his more familiar position of half forward despite playing the latter games of the season as a defender. He was replaced there by Thomas Clancy who was given the task of marking a clearly ageing and heavily bandaged Declan O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan had a remarkable game orchestrating the tempo and pulling the strings as a sweeper behind midfield.
The amount of breaking ball he gathered, the freedom he attained and the time in possession allowed him to perfectly pick holes in the Cork defence and create havoc for the full-back line. Clancy failed to either pressurise O’Sullivan or provide substantial cover for the struggling defence.
The Cork half-forward line of Kelly, Kerrigan and O’Rourke were completely anonymous. Kelly and O’Rourke were replaced at half-time though this could have been Kerrigan and Barry O’Driscoll such were their performances.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice got everything right. Bryan Sheehan started in midfield and pushed Johnny Buckley to left-half forward, a brilliant move that resulted in eight points between them and a complete dominance of Cork kickouts. The defensive match-ups were again perfect especially with the deployment of Paul Murphy to full back. But what Fitzmaurice should be given most credit for is the merging of thetraditional Kerry passing and moving attacking style with a modern defensive system which, yesterday at least, worked like ying and yang.
Travelling home last night I was in no doubt that Cork will not challenge for All-Ireland glory even if they correct so many of their technical errors because what champions need is heart and this Cork team are sadly lacking that.
Kerry thankfully continue to shine and have more to offer this year. I only hope they can use yesterday as a springboard to push Dublin in what still appears to be the most one-sided championship in decades.
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