Forget the bigger issues for now, avoiding that prospect is the most immediate concern after Saturday night’s defeat to Dublin. Though it helped restore a modicum of pride after the awfulness of the defeat six days earlier to Roscommon, it is a result that leaves the Rebels with just two points from four games.
Monaghan in Pairc Ui Rinn next Sunday marks the first of that crucial trio of fixtures and Peadar Healy will have to hope his predictably unpredictable squad can build on the positives banked in the capital after a long week spent navel gazing.
“To be fair, they are a very resilient bunch of players,” said the Cork boss. “There was a lot of soul-searching, of course. We looked for a performance and we didn’t get the result. We are disappointed, but there are three championship matches ahead of us to stay in Division One.”
They move on with some encouragement: holding Jim Gavin’s men scoreless for the first 22 minutes, Peter Kelleher’s continued blossoming at full-forward, Ian Maguire’s industrious first-half and the manner in which they almost rebounded to claim a draw in the last seven minutes were among the positives.
Colm O’Neill’s performance stands tallest among the plus points. He claimed 1-3 here from what was his first start of the year and he had a say in a handful of other scores before making way early in the second-half on account of a clear lack of match fitness. Cork missed him. He had by then converted a 20th-minute penalty and even his miss-kicked point attempt nine minutes later worked out, falling as it did to Paul Kerrigan who brilliantly crossed the ball for Kelleher to fist home and push Cork towards a 2-7 to 1-3 half-time lead.
Ultimately, they lost because of a torturous 25-minute period after the interval when Dublin scored nine times and Cork failed to register. They aren’t the first team to be swamped in such a fashion by Gavin’s side and they won’t be the last. Their downfall was accelerated by a failure to take three chances in the opening to the second stanza, a fisted Kelleher effort that came back off the butt of Dublin’s post and a roll call of poor options that fuelled extra life into the home team’s recovery.
“I’m disappointed because there was an opportunity there to win,” said Healy. “Having said that, you would have to give Dublin great credit. We had the chances at the start of the second-half. We had three chances and they were vital chances. We gave away some bad frees at the back as well. I’d say we gave away eight or nine scoreable frees and that cost is big time. Even though we were still solid at the back, we gave away too many of them.”
Cormac Costello profited from that largesse, popping over eight points from dead balls in that second-half and another from play. It was only when Johnny Cooper saw a red for a second yellow with under 10 minutes to play that Cork wriggled off the ropes. It was a performance that leaves us with as many questions as answers about Cork. For some time now they have wavered between sweepers and 15-on-15 and everything in between. On Saturday they played what Gavin called “a non- traditional” Cork game that focused heavily on defence.
Thirteen men funnelled back behind the ball at all times. More important was the attitude of players who had simply let themselves down against Roscommon. Cork fought for everything this time and frustrated a Dublin side that struggled to adapt to the challenge for the first half an hour and more.
So, what now? Do they continue to lean on such an approach or was this a one-off against a very special team? Former Mayo manager James Horan spoke on TV about how Cork have been struggling to find their “soul” and Healy seems reluctant to land on any one system for now.
“I don’t know really,” he explained. “You try out all these things in the league. You are just preparing for championship and that’s what we’re doing at the moment. Trying out different systems and seeing what suits us best.”
C Costello (0-9, 7f); D Connolly (1-3, 1f, 1 ‘45’); J McCarthy (1-0); P Andrews (0-2).
C O’Neill (1-3, 0-2f); P Kelleher (1-0); B Hurley (0-2, 1f); C O’Driscoll, P Kerrigan, M Collins, R Deane (all 0-1). L Connolly (0-1f).
M Savage; J Cooper, P McMahon, D Byrne; J McCarthy, C O’Sullivan, E Lowndes; B Fenton, E O Conghaile; P Flynn, D Connolly, C Kilkenny; C Costello, P Andrews, B Brogan.
J Small for Lowndes and M Fitzsimons for Fenton (both HT); S Carthy for O Conghaile (48); D Rock for Brogan (49); K McManamon for Andrews (65); SB Carthy for Flynn (71).
M Aodh Martin; J O’Sullivan, E Cadogan, K Crowley; T Clancy, C O’Driscoll, K O’Driscoll; S Kiely, I Maguire; M Collins, L Connolly, B O’Driscoll; C O’Neill, P Kelleher, M Collins.
B Hurley for Kerrigan (31-35) and for K O’Driscoll (54); D Goulding for O’Neill (44); K O’Hanlon for Kiely (50); R Deane for Connolly (57); A O’Sullivan for Kelleher (67); M Collins for Kerrigan (70).
P Neilan (Roscommon).