Cork look the stronger outfit, but improvement needed

OTHER than for the Munster final, Cork footballers have gone in three times as favourites in the Bank of Ireland championship and delivered.

However, it would be accepted that neither Limerick nor Tipperary presented any real test and that while they showed good form in coming back in Killarney to avoid a heavy defeat, they were anything but impressive in their qualifier win over Louth.

Against that background, followers won’t be quite sure of what to expect from them when they face up to Sligo for only the second time in the All-Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park tomorrow (2pm).

Many people see them as potential champions and while this view is largely based on their perceived potential, it’s still rather flattering.

The fact is that, measured against their display in Portlaoise, they have a lot of ground to make up against the Connacht champions if they are to make it to another semi-final.

They need to play much more consistently and this will require a slicker delivery of ball out of defence and greater utilisation of resources in the forward line. And, in between, they need to get more from their midfield pairing. Their best spell in the Munster final, when Michael Cussen got quality ball at full-forward line, illustrated what they are capable of when they get their game going properly.

Against a Galway team which had found it very difficult to get over Leitrim in the semi-final, Sligo fought tooth and nail to grind out a victory which owed much to the midfield dominance of Eamonn O’Hara and his midfield partner Kieran Quinn.

Most impressive of all, perhaps, was the resolve they showed in defending their narrow one-point winning margin through six agonising minutes of injury time. And, long before that they had lost O’Hara through injury, after his early goal had helped inspire an overdue victory.

To be fair, while they hadn’t previously won the provincial title since 1975 (following which they suffered a hammering from Kerry), over the last decade their stock had risen sharply. Firstly, Mickey Moran was quite successful in raising their standard and Peter Ford carried on that work before they had a few changes of management and current boss Tommy Breheny took over.

The climax of all that (earlier) effort was an All-Ireland quarter-final appearance in 2002 which only ended in defeat against Armagh in a replay.

Breheny is credited with restoring confidence and morale and he was also directly responsible in coaxing back a few players who had gone off the panel. It’s safe to assume that he will have them in top form for this game and that it won’t be a case of being satisfied with the Connacht title.

Potentially, Cork are the stronger — and more experienced — outfit, but there’s simply no guarantee of them advancing. A significant improvement on their Louth form is required, otherwise they could be spared the indignity of a further semi-final failure.

* Verdict: Cork.

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