Haulie: Size not decisive factor

Watching Cork-Down encounters over these last two years and the dreamer in you would be inclined to think Gulliver and Lilliput.

No other team has illustrated the size of this Cork team than their 2010 All-Ireland final opponents.

Since that one-point win, Cork have scored 11 goals in winning all four of their meetings. All together they’ve posted 11-60 and their smallest margin of victory was eight points in last year’s Division 1 semi-final.

Domination would be putting it mildly and with Cork dwarfing so many of their Mourne county opponents it would be easy to put down height and bulk as more than contributory factors.

How Cork selector Mike ‘Haulie’ O’Neill wished it were that way. He wouldn’t suggest for a second that the team are gentle giants but doesn’t believe their sheer mass is viewed the same way by opponents as by the public.

“That’s a perception I’d love to have out there, that other teams were thinking we were a physical team. I don’t know if many teams in the country believe that. Yes, we’re tall but we wouldn’t play a brand of football I would call physical. Perception is one thing but the reality is it’s not the size of the dog but the size of the bite in the dog that matters. The way the game has gone pace is a lot more important than pure size.

“This Cork team is all about football. We’re big, you only have to stand next to the players to see that, but the whole game is based on football.”

On the subject of perceptions, he is impressed at how the Donegal management have cultivated an intimidating impression of themselves.

“In fairness to Donegal, they won an All-Ireland, which appeared to come from nowhere, but everything was right for them in the year. There were no injuries to any of their big players.

“Jimmy McGuinness is shrewd. He’s capable of distracting attention from certain areas and was capable of sowing seeds into people’s brains that if Donegal were level with you with 10 minutes to go there was only one winner. It wasn’t Jimmy McGuinness who was saying that — it was commentators and all of a sudden people bought into it unbeknown to themselves. He’s an astute man, there’s no doubting that.”

It wasn’t size but the work-rate of the Cork forwards which dual great Ray Cummins recently took issue with.

O’Neill doesn’t agree with that viewpoint and suggests forwards in general get more than their fair share of stick.

“With every team it’s always ‘let’s look at the forwards’. There’s always a feeling that the team’s forwards don’t work hard enough.

“I’m not sure if that’s correct. Maybe they don’t work hard enough in the right areas but that doesn’t mean they’re not working hard enough.”

Without a win this year (including McGrath Cup), the focus is sharper on Cork and with away trips to Down and Tyrone in the next eight days the onus for points is stronger.

Clonakilty butcher O’Neill won’t be accepting the long trips to Ulster as an excuse for poorer performances.

“I often wonder why home advantage works the way it does. The pitch dimensions are usually the same, the referee’s decisions are usually the same. Take Stoke City in the Premier League — anybody who goes to them is lucky to come away with anything. Stoke go somewhere else and they mightn’t necessarily get the same result.

” How do you explain that? I’ve tried to put my finger on it but I don’t know why it works that way. Look at Munster’s home record compared to their away record. Thomond Park is like a fortress.

“You could say it’s the crowd but the ball is the same, the goalposts are the same. I don’t think there should be any reason why you can’t perform equally away as you do at home.”

O’Neill admits failing to win a fourth consecutive Division 1 title wouldn’t be a major blow but says it shouldn’t be used as a reason for the poor form of late.

“No, but nobody goes out to lose games. Every time we tog out, we look to win. It may not be a disaster but that wouldn’t be an issue for losing.”

He says the management have taken something from both defeats.

“Even in the Dublin one, we had four new lads in Damien Cahalane, John O’Rourke and the two Thomas Clancys, who all acquitted themselves well.

“With the successful teams of this world, they always bring in new players and if you don’t do that you end up in a doomsday scenario someday where everybody falls off the cliff.”


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