Ronan McCarthy is confident his Cork team will prove more than a “handful” for whoever they draw in round four of the qualifiers.
Cork have not reached the last eight of the championship since 2014, falling at the fourth-round hurdle each summer since. But irrespective of who Cork are pitted against on this occasion, McCarthy is adamant that his team are well capable of progressing to the Super 8s.
“Look at the period since we played Tipperary [in round five of the league]. We’ve played 10 matches, against Kerry, Galway, Dublin, Donegal and so on. And we’ve been consistent and competitive in all the games. The key thing in that is whoever we get in the draw, we feel we’ll have the capability of beating them,” said the Cork manager.
“I felt our lads played with real honour and spirit tonight, but we’ll have to gather ourselves again. We will have regrets, that’s part of the learning process, but if we learn from our mistakes, I think we’ll be a handful for anyone, whoever we get in the qualifiers. I’m sure we’re going to get another bumper team in the qualifiers but I’m looking forward to that.”
McCarthy refused to be drawn on the performance of referee Anthony Nolan, remarking that he’d be “better off” holding his counsel where the man in the middle is concerned.
The free count finished 27-11 in Kerry’s favour, with Nolan also penalising Cork goalkeeper Mark White, harshly at that, for taking too long to restart the game early in the second-half. When asked about said free count, the Cork manager replied:
I think I am better off not answering that question. I am certainly better off not answering it now
The Cork manager also claimed he did not see Stephen O’Brien’s contentious second-half kick, from the South Stand side, which, after much deliberation, was adjudged to have gone over.
“I am not doing an Arsène Wenger on it now, but I didn’t see it so I can’t comment on it."
Luke Connolly, Rúairí Deane, Mark Collins, and Sean White all failed to put away first-half goal chances, with McCarthy particularly rueful of Collins’ shot which was blocked by Tadhg Morley.
“Mark should have off-loaded it to Brian Hurley who was free. It’s something we are very good at and Mark is very good at actually – picking out the guy in a better position. With that said, they had a fairly clear-cut chance with Gavin White at the other end in the first-half.
But look, we ultimately came to win the game, we haven’t done that, and there’s a great sense of disappointment in the dressing room.
No more than when they entertained Kildare at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in early February, Cork were unable to capitalise on the opposition being reduced to 14 men. Kerry outscored their hosts by 0-5 to 0-4 after Paul Geaney’s 55th-minute sending-off.
“The funny thing about sendings-off, when they had a lead to defend it helped them in that they pulled men behind the ball even more than they had, and hit us on the counter-attack. We had to come after the game. To be fair to Kerry, they weathered that storm. Hats off to them, they were a difficult opposition.”
He concluded: "Did [the midweek injuries] disrupt? A bit, but we said to the players we weren’t looking for excuses and we are not. It was a little setback but we dealt with it."