The bush telegraph in Cork this week buzzed with speculation that Alan O’Connor was going to come out of retirement.
The rumour was put to bed quickly — reports O’Connor had donned a cape were also untrue — but there was little surprise it had gained currency such were the team’s difficulties at restarts against Kerry.
From the outset of the season, it was obvious midfield was the one area where, for all their options elsewhere, they were coming up short. O’Connor had bowed out just a year after Nicholas Murphy made way.
With Aidan Walsh dividing his commitments not to mention his injuries during the league, it only compounded the problem. Cork had been getting away with it.
But in that first half earlier this month when the wind blew into the Blackrock End towards Ken O’Halloran’s face, Kerry had the advantage of the ball being held up for them to spoil or break down.
When they did so in numbers their dominance was staggering.
Cork’s two-time All-Ireland winning midfielder Shea Fahy understood the team’s difficulties both in terms of personnel and conditions. But what he couldn’t understand was why O’Halloran didn’t vary his kicks.
“When you lose two experienced guys like Nicholas and Alan one year after another it’s a challenge, but for me the other and more important challenge is getting the whole kickout strategy right.
“The last day, I felt they were doing the same thing over and over again. Losing one or two key people in one area of the midfield is one thing but doing something different with the kickouts would have helped against that.”
O’Halloran is not Stephen Cluxton but when he was bereft of totemic figures like O’Connor and Murphy in the middle, Fahy felt he should have gone wide or even short.
“The game has become so much about possession and you saw what Kerry were able to do with it when they won so much on Cork’s ball.
“When teams are going so defensive, gaining possession from a kickout is more important because with quick ball you can kick the ball into your forwards before the teams set themselves up.”
Fahy hears plenty about Cluxton’s importance at “possession restarts” as Dublin like to call them, but emphasises Cork were mixing it up long before the Dubliner became the best goalkeeper in the country.
“Billy Morgan and John Kerins were ahead of their time with the way they changed kickouts. It’s just more exaggerated now by people moving around and creating space.
“It’s an obvious thing now with so much movement with the attention of leaving gaps to attack.
“It does take time to nail it down and Dublin are three or four years at this stage. Players need time to understand what their role for which of the kickouts it is.”
Cork may only have had three weeks to get their kickouts right and Fahy will make allowances in Tullamore this evening. But he’s expecting a group effort to help make up for the lack of target men in the centre.
“The wing-backs and wing-forwards have to be used to better effect. It has to be about six to eight people making themselves available instead of two and how the goalkeeper plays that role in making that effective will be key.
“That’s what they have to do.”
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