EVEN a man with Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s forensic attention to detail will struggle to get an advance sense of which Cork side he’s facing today.
Is it the one which mauled Mayo, or ran Dublin ragged for 35 minutes? Or the one downed too easily by Donegal and ruthlessly rodded by Roscommon? Anyone left behind from the Clones trip last Sunday to run the rule over Cork’s performance at home to cellar-dwellers Down was wasting their time. It was dire stuff.
Peadar Healy has drawn up a broad, blank canvass, the breadth of which is threatening to become more a problem than a solution. 34 players have been tried in the six games, including four goalkeepers. There’s been a raft of new defenders tried - Kieran Histon, Daniel Hazel, Kevin Crowley - but none that have locked down a jersey as yet. After today’s 70 minutes, the Cork management has some serious thinking, and culling, to do.
However the League has not been without its positive revelations. Peter Kelleher has been a constant and menacing target on the edge of the square, though the youngster from Kilmichael is unlikely to be showcased today with the two counties preparing to renew battle at Under 21 level next Thursday night here in Tralee.
Fellow attacker Luke Connolly has been described as a mercurial talent, with all that such descriptions entail. However, he has shown already that the project has been worth pursuing. The real stage tests for him, though, begin today.
Ian Maguire has successfully returned from a year out with a back problem, though his cursed luck is such that he left Páirc Ui Rinn last Sunday on crutches again after a kick in the ankle.
He certainly has the attributes to frank his name on the future for Cork at midfield.
For every plus there’s been a minus, for every problem, there’s been a potential solution. When someone said it might be 2017 before we get a real handle on the new Cork, they weren’t far wrong.
Healy - who had a voluminous knowledge of Kerry football ever before he took on the role of coaching Dr Crokes in 2015, has also enlisted the insight of Rock Street's own Billy Sheehan to beef up his dossier. It is part of his project strategy to arm the Cork players with all the relevant tidbits and tactics they require to avoid being blind-sided by the likes of Kerry, Dublin and Mayo.
After four wins on the bounce, using players anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of football would recognise, it would hardly take a sleuth to second-guess the Kingdom. The difference is that Kerry are two, possibly three years, ahead of Cork in terms of their options, their maturity and the quality of player at their disposal. Kerry have also used 30-plus players in the League, though the reasons were more out of necessity than curiosity.
Kerry have proven options, augmented by the dexterity of Kieran Donaghy, Paul Murphy, Bryan Sheehan, Marc Ó Sé and Killian Young. But no manager is comfortable facing erratic opposition and Fitzmaurice knows that Cork present a different sort of challenge every time they suit up. Anyone expect the 10-point drubbing Cork handed Kerry two years ago in Tralee?
Or the Kingdom capitulation in Pairc Ui Rinn last spring?
Without doubt, Cork’s urgency should be greater today. But few will be taking today’s events and throwing them into the summer mix. Fifteen weeks down the tracks Cork will be well out of their experimental phase with Healy hoping a number of younger players have barrelled their way into his Championship squad. Only then can we start to examine the new brush with any sense of robust interrogation.
As for today, who knows which Cork turns up.
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