Shared points and frustrations between once-great rivals

These are the afternoons managers walk slowly from the debris of another collapsed first floor, foundations they thought solid now barely discernible amid the rubble. 

Cork's Peter Kelleher battling with Meath's Conor McGill in yesterday's match at Páirc Uí Rinn. Picture: Sportsfile

These are the sea-sick games managers should be scanning from a position as far removed from the side-line as possible to provide some reliability to their perspective.

Andy McEntee’s perspective in a bizarre second period yesterday was the more straight-forward of the white line generals at Páirc Ui Rinn. He had no choice but to go for it. From the opening five minutes, his Meath side was off the pace, lethargic and feeling sorry for themselves.

The lack of stomach for the battle was oddly un-Meath. They could only improve with the wind and a big total to chase but if Cork had been poised and clinical with their first-half goal chances, it wouldn’t have made a difference what the Royals did.

Donal Keoghan isn’t the first defender to discover a Colm O’Neill at full tilt is an onerous assignment, while Mark Collins, in particular, and Peter Kelleher, had Meath’s central posts in several kinds of bother.

A seven-point half-time lead was hardly reflective of the ease with which Cork picked off some scores, but there’s little currency in delving too deep here – this was a Division 2 middleweight fixture played fast and loose. If there was ample stress and tension on the sidelines, it was not matched by ferocious intensity inside the white lines. Peadar Healy has managed enough teams to recognise the folly of believing a bainisteoir’s bib entitles him to anything, least of all luck. He lost two midfielders, Aidan Walsh and Ian Maguire before half-time, and watched his players capitulate in the face of a Meath surge in the final quarter.

That’s not just the day’s ultimate storyline – it is Cork’s most pressing concern. They are a squad running on empty reserves of confidence and self-belief. Ruairi Deane was one of the afternoon’s bright spots, but they need every bit of leadership they can get – Maguire, Walsh (knee injury) and Eoin Cadogan can’t return quickly enough. Twice they picked the ball off the ground in panic after Meath’s Donal Keoghan had circled forward to finish to the net after 55 minutes.

Ten minutes earlier it was 0-15 to 0-6 Cork. Now it was 0-16 to 1-11. There looked only one winner. And that’s when Andy McEntee felt a share of Healy’s frustration.

“We get into a position to win the game after getting the goal, with 15 minutes remaining and the wind with us, then we proceed to show a total lack of composure and quality,” he reflected. “Our shot selection was a killer, that’s real me-feinism, not thinking of the team in the right areas at the right time. If you offered me a draw at 0-15 to 0-6 down, I’d have ripped your arm off but with 15 mins to go and a point down, I’d have said, no way, we will go for this.

“We had everything going for us, Cork weren’t winning their own kick-outs and then we insist on doing the selfish thing. Both teams are similar in terms of confidence, we should know how brittle they are because we are in the same boat.”

Unquestionably, Cork football is in a brittle though far from hopeless state. Piecing any project together necessitates self-belief and solid foundations. When the run of the day went against the home team in Páirc Uí Rinn, they looked devoid of both. Balance is essential too. Cork is well stocked on hard-running foot soldiers who will do their best anywhere but flexibility can be a vice too. Gaelic football is in danger of becoming a choice between the things a player can’t do versus the range of positions he can be played in. Cork needs to find a few more round pegs for round holes.

Kelleher and O’Neill offer something different and potent as an inside pair (with the right finisher working off them) and Mark Collins is an ideal central attacking anchor. If Luke Connolly can be accommodated, there are plenty of toilers to balance with him in the half-forward line. Maguire and Ruairi Deane is an interesting midfield proposition as well.

There’s a signature to the Friday Night Lights tv series based on H.W. Bissinger’s study of small-town High School football in West Texas: Clear eyes, full heart. Can’t lose. Strong leadership provides the first two and frequently prevents the third. Look at Dublin Saturday night in Tralee.

Cork’s targets are more prosaic at the moment, as are Meath’s. But a trip to Derry on Sunday offers Peadar Healy’s squad an ideal opportunity to lead and make good decisions under pressure. Something they failed to do when it counted yesterday.

Andy McEntee understands Healy’s pain. “The really disappointing thing from our point of view was the lack of appetite and effort in that first 45 minutes.

“That’s something we are trying to get away from, something we’ve talked about. At that stage, you are looking for fellas to show a little bit of guts and balls. In fairness to our lads, they showed a bit of that.” Something to rescue from the rubble then.

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