A fortnight of soul searching for Ronan McCarthy’s Cork

In the Páirc Uí Chaoimh media area after Saturday’s Munster football final the record books were being consulted and scoring sequences examined.

Was it Cork’s worst defeat by Kerry in a decider since 1938? (Yes.) Had Cork gone almost 40 minutes without a score? (Yes.) When was the last time a team in a Munster final had managed six scores? (1999, when Kerry scored 2-4.) 

In the circumstances Ronan McCarthy would have been forgiven for being slow to handle his press duties, but the Cork manager was swift to face the microphones, admitting frankly that he hadn’t anticipated his side’s collapse.

“It’s hugely disappointing result and performance from us,” said the Douglas clubman. 

“We have to put it behind us very quickly because we have a very quick turnaround to the next game in two weeks’ time.

“I’ll be honest, that’s one thing I didn’t see coming today, but it’s happened and we have to get on with it.” 

There was some criticism of referee Ciaran Branagan’s black card for Ruairi Deane, who had impressed early on for Cork, but McCarthy put that decision in context.

 

“You’re beaten by 17 points, a black card... I felt the black card calls, a couple that were given which probably weren’t, a couple that weren’t given were.

“We just have to suck that up, we can’t complain. We were beaten too comprehensively for that to be a factor in what we can talk about.” 

Why was the defeat so comprehensive? McCarthy pointed to Kerry’s quality and work ethic: The Kingdom had identified Cork’s preferred option, running the ball upfield, and worked hard to counteract it.

“I thought (Cork keeper) Mark (White) did OK, he tried to vary it by putting a few out towards the sidelines, that he did OK.

“Our big problem was that Kerry didn’t want us to run the ball out and blocked up the centre very well, they worked hard to stop us.

“We hadn’t enough people supporting the ball carrier when we came out with the ball and we ended up being turned over: I think it was 19 times in the first half. Some of those were very cheap, losing the ball in contact.

“That was the most disappointing thing for me, that I felt our real strength is our running game and support play, and Kerry obviously were not going to let us come out easy. We lacked support so many times, then we were turned over and they were straight through.

“We got disjointed. The two goals we got early on kept us just in touching distance at half-time.

“They could have been further ahead at half-time. And they pushed on from there.” 

As the game wore on, Cork fell into the classic vicious cycle: Trailing significantly on the scoreboard, they had to take risks to try to narrow the lead, but when those risks didn’t pay off the home side were stretched at the back and Kerry punished them ruthlessly. That hollowed out Cork’s confidence, the deficit getting bigger and bigger.

“We had no options, no one showing. Credit to Kerry for that, they were well set up, but when you let a team with that quality seven, eight, nine points up... you’re always vulnerable when you’re chasing the game.

“The question is do people want us to fold up our tent and defend out the game to the end? We’re not going to do that under my regime, anyway. It did (affect confidence), but to be fair to them they’re probably a bit shell-shocked. Nobody was saying we expected to come out and win by 10 points like we did against Tipperary.

“We felt we’d be competitive, they felt that, and at half-time I felt we could still, possibly, get back into the game, but Kerry got a goal and a couple of points quickly. After that it’s damage limitation because you’re trying to chase the game and that leaves you wide open at the back. I couldn’t disagree with you (on confidence).” 

McCarthy agreed Kerry are traditionally a team who can punish opponents if they get a chance to press home their advantage. 

“They have quality players, but they’re no different to any Kerry team I played against, they’ve always had quality men up front,” he said.

“My last year playing, we played Kerry three times in one year — we drew in Killarney, beat them here in Cork comfortably enough, by six or seven points, and lost the All-Ireland semi-final by 15 points.

“They’re the kind of team that if they get a run on you and get away from you, they can hurt you. They can play with abandon and freedom. Fair play to them, they were ruthless to the end.

“They’re like every Kerry team I ever played against, they have quality up front, and if you allow them to play, they’ll hurt you.” 

For Cork, the options are stark. They go into the qualifiers on the back of a historic beating and must meet the challenge of another ambitious side, keen to see the Super 8s.

McCarthy acknowledged the pressure. 

“People have been on about three-year terms and so on, but the performance tonight has nothing to do with a three-year term. I’m not interested in a three-year term, I’m interested in getting the max out of this season.

“I felt we could be competitive tonight, that we’d have to play well — let’s acknowledge the opposition, they have real quality all over the field, an outstanding manager who’s tactically very astute.

“We knew we’d have to play well, that it was in us, and we didn’t do it, and that’s the disappointing thing.

“But we have to turn around quickly. We have a choice now, to lie down and die or turn around and get ready for two weeks’ time.” 

A fortnight, then, until the questions are asked again.

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