Cork won eight of their first 10 kickouts and also their last eight when the game was gone. While the game was in the melting pot, Cork lost 11 out of 15. Despite getting cleaned out in this key period of the game, Cork’s kickout never really varied — it was kicked primarily 55 to 70 metres with a range of about 10m either side of the centre. The responsibility here does not lie with just goalkeeper and midfield. There was in fact very few clean catches, with Goold and Walsh competing well in the air. Breaking ball was more relevant. Cork’s wing back line cannot be caught with their heels planted to the ground while the opposition half-forwards time their runs to slip past them into the breaking ball area at pace. They need to shadow these runs and be in a position to dominate their men physically when the ball does break.
The addition of wing forward Colm O’Driscoll to the team will help as he is strong on breaking ball. Cork may consider deploying him goal side for breaks on their own kickouts.
In that crucial 18 minutes of play in the first half against Kerry, Cork controlled the ball only once inside their opponent’s 45. In the league, Cork kicked a lot of the ball into the full forward line and got scores quickly before any blanket defences had time to get organised. Championship defences are far better set up however and honed over several weeks for specific games. Against both Tipperary and Kerry, Cork’s inability to get attacking possession has prevented them from getting the best out of their dangerous full-forward line. If Sligo continue the trend with an effective blanket defence, there will be no point in Colm O’Neill, Brian Hurley, Donal Óg Hodnett and (later on) Daniel Goulding staying in the full-forward line behind this blanket. These guys can shoot accurately from distance and other teams don’t boast as many of these threats in their arsenal. On this basis, these players may be required to drift out to the wing-forward positions so that they can be set up for a shot. If Cork can stretch the blanket defence with strong running and snappy hand passes to these long-range shooters in space, the percentages may start swinging back in their favour. Even if not all of these shots go over, it is better than no shot from play (Hurley and Goulding were the only Cork players with more than two shots from play against Kerry, registering only three points between them). As ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky famously noted — you are guaranteed to miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
Over the past three seasons of inter-county football, 65% of all shots have been taken from the area in front of the D and either side of it. This area also needs to be protected as it’s the channel through which some of the most dangerous ball gets played into. Looking down from the stand in the Munster final, it was very worrying to see the amount of space (out of TV camera shot) Cork’s full back line had to contend with on the edge of the D, while Kerry weighed up their options around midfield (in camera shot) before delivering the ball in. This protection may not be required as much against Sligo but against the best teams, Cork will need to fill this centre and push teams wide. They can do this by holding more of their half-back line in place or else play a sweeper in front of their full-back line, cutting off this space on the edge of the D. Easy in theory, difficult in practice.
In the Munster final, it was noticeable that Kerry had time on the ball to pick their passes. The fact that Kerry did not misplace a single pass in 31 minutes of the second half or the fact that they only misplaced six passes in the entire game cannot be entirely down to their accuracy. When it came to shooting, 17 of Kerry’s 27 shots were taken under no pressure. Cork’s pride is hurt from the Munster final. The level of aggression in training since the Kerry game is rumoured to be significant. The channelling of this aggression into intensity and workrate will be one of the few things that is 100% within Cork’s control as they look for a reaction.
It was unlikely to be an issue up to this point but it could certainly have been jeopardised after the Munster final. The general sense of disappointment along with the unwarranted hostility in the aftermath of that defeat to Kerry could not have been easy to deal with. Cork have not turned into bad footballers overnight, and they will have to remember this as they try rescue their season. An honest assessment of weakness is crucial but any internal blame games or cynicism serves no purpose and could completely undermine confidence and derail their efforts. This is not in the nature of the players or management but pulling everyone together again and generating renewed belief is a huge challenge. The guys to lose out from the Munster final include some established players. While they will not be happy about being denied a chance to avenge the Munster final performance, they have to set the tone and be positive for the group.