Even in the All-Ireland-winning year of 2010, slow starts haunted Cork.
In the quarter-final, semi-final and final against Roscommon, Dublin and Down respectively, they had to rely on strong second-half showings to turn games their way, and it’s a habit which has proven hard to shake.
Against Kerry in this year’s Munster final, and that of 2011, the fightbacks fell just short, though last Saturday against Galway, Cork timed things right — Aidan Walsh’s goal the catalyst for the turnaround.
Cork full-back Michael Shields admits it is something they are keen to address.
“It’s something, even in the last three or four years, that we’ve done. It hasn’t improved this year, which is a bad thing.
“But all you can do is work on it in training and talk about it. That’s something we would like to do the next day, get a good start.
“The bad starts we’ve had have been a common occurrence. If we can eradicate that and concentrate a bit more and get consistency, I think we’ll be in with a shout of most games.”
The sluggishness of their starts may remain an annoyance but Shields points to the number of chances which they created in the opening phases — though struggled to convert.
“We had a few before half-time, we had a few after half-time and we didn’t get them,” he said.
“Galway took their chances and we found ourselves four or five points down. But we didn’t panic.
“We stuck with it and ended up two or three points behind. Eventually the goal chance came and we kicked on from there.”
The fear ahead of Saturday’s assignment against Dublin, is the type of lead the Leinster champions could build up if Cork don’t hit the ground running at Croke Park.
Jim Gavin’s side certainly appear an even tougher proposition than the team which Cork beat in the 2010 semi-final.
“You have a lot of younger players there,” Shields said.
“You have [Paul] Mannion, you have [Paddy] Andrews, who has come back into the team.
“There is a nice spread, Diarmuid Connolly wasn’t there that year, so he’s another addition.
“Paul Flynn, I think, that day was on the bench, he’s another man whose flying it. He has two All Stars in the last two years.
“There is four or five players I’ve named there that weren’t in the team back then. Obviously, you’ve Bernard Brogan, who’s their talisman.”
Three years ago, Brogan was the primary scoring threat, with Shields deployed to marshal him.
Brogan may not be as dominant on the scoresheet now but that does not mean he will be treated any differently. “He’s still creating a lot,” he said. “He’s playing smart football. He’s running out of space, taking fellas with him, creating other space for the other players to run into. So while he might not be scoring as much, he’s doing a lot off the ball.”
Another key figure in the Dublin attack is Ciarán Kilkenny. While Shields has never met the Castleknock youngster, the two have the shared experience of cutting short an attempt at an AFL career.
Therefore, it’s not hard for Shields to see why Kilkenny preferred to come home last December.
“No, it doesn’t surprise me. He was relatively young. It’s always a big ask to see any player go over there.
“I struggled big time with it. I was homesick, I missed my family. I would say Ciarán is similar.
“He missed his club, he missed his hurling, he missed his football. It doesn’t surprise me that he came back.”
Swapping an oval ball for an O’Neills is not all that straightforward either, as Shields is only too aware.
“It took me a while to get back to where I was. I was six months not kicking a round ball, just kicking an oval ball. You’re kind of kicking a different style.
“Even the reading of the game, you’re changing your whole reading of it and the way you’re going about things. It took me the guts of a year to get me back to where I was.”
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