Such has been their dreadful inconsistency in recent years, any analysis of the Cork footballers tends to yo-yo from one extreme to the other.
Performances continue to be up and down since Ronan McCarthy assumed control, but the same cannot be said of his own public utterances. No triumph has been followed by gushing praise, no setback or no-show has given way to a tongue-lashing.
Instead McCarthy is taking a more measured approach, one that has served him well in recent months.
Ahead of the county’s opening league fixture back in January, McCarthy told this paper that one of their key objectives was to “steer a steady course and not get too excited either way, results-wise”.
He reiterated this line after they fell at home to Tipperary on that opening league weekend, determined that no one begin sounding the death knell for Cork football because of one defeat.
Since then he’s kept to that script, win or lose. It’s obvious he’s trying to dial down how results are viewed, both inside and outside the camp. That’s no easy job given victory in recent years meant a turning of some corner and defeat — the 2016 Munster semi-final reverse to Tipperary being a prime example — led to talk of crisis and calls for a root-and-branch review.
Even victories were drawing criticism, with the Cork footballers compared to ‘a herd of sheep’ after stumbling past Waterford in last year’s Munster championship.
Having observed all of this as a selector under Brian Cuthbert and a spectator during Peadar Healy’s tenure, McCarthy has been consistent in his message these past six months, whether speaking in the wake of a league defeat to Clare or a Munster championship victory over Tipperary.
Kerry boss Éamonn Fitzmaurice captured his counterpart’s approach when asked for his opinion on their Munster final opponents.
“Ronan, during the league, was very steady, regardless of results,” said Fitzmaurice. “That was going to breed a different atmosphere in the group that there wasn’t going to be knee-jerk reactions, there wasn’t going to be an atmosphere looking to the outside.”
Kerry travel to Páirc Uí Chaoimh as strong favourites to claim a sixth consecutive Munster crown and yet McCarthy refuses to see this provincial final as a “free shot” for his charges. Nor will he agree to the narrative that it is imperative Cork deliver a performance to back up what they showed in Semple Stadium last month.
“What you find now, in terms of analysis and coverage of games, is huge highs and huge lows,” said the Cork manager. “After the win over Tipperary, suddenly, you are now hearing that people are very positive about it and so on. Actually, let’s keep things steady here.
“They haven’t always done it, but we kept things steady when we didn’t. The league match against Cavan where the performance was diabolical, we didn’t go crazy after it. We just kept working.”
Not so much the winning margin over Tipperary, but the manner in which they took apart Liam Kearns’ side during the opening 45 minutes — Cork led 1-11 to 0-4 at that stage — has fed the belief that Cork will be far more of a match for Kerry than was the case 12 months ago.
McCarthy’s belief is his side have more to offer. As impressive and all as their Munster semi-final showing was, particularly when you consider the pressure the players were under after a league campaign where they wound up sixth in Division 2, the manager is confident there’s another gear to come.
“There is no reason why we can’t perform. What is clear to me is that there is more in us. We’ll see if that will come out in the Munster final. We are not looking at it as a free shot. That is not in our thinking.
“We want to go out against a top team and meet them head on and see if we can give a performance. I’ve said it many times but I think there is huge quality in our group. Just look at our bench against Tipperary. In theory, that will be even stronger again when we play Kerry. I believe there is real intent in the team, they are very serious in their training. They want to be successful. But we have to go out and deliver a performance.”
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