Super 8s analysis: Little evidence to suggest Cork are at this level
It's been a pretty tough decade for Cork football, and few would have seen them reaching this stage of the summer in 2019. Cahair O'Kane looks at whether their place in the Super 8s is in any way merited, but also whether they have the attacking resource to cause trouble...
WHERE once Cork and Kerry clashes were one of the most eagerly anticipated football games of the year, they’re no longer even a guarantee.
In spite of their presence in the Super 8s (the merits of which we’ll get to), were Cork to pull Clare from the hat for next year’s Munster semi-final and the Banner to keep Colm Collins in charge and keep on going as they are, would you really walk into the bookies ready to set your house keys up on the counter?
And the reality that seems to be heading down the tracks is that if they didn’t win promotion from a Division Three that will not be handy got out of, losing a Munster semi-final would mean Cork play next summer in a ‘B’ championship.
It’s a long way from here to there, yet it’s a very distinct possibility. And when it comes to predicting what Cork might do, it can make a wise man look very foolish.
No better example that the just-gone Munster final, where the Rebels came close to winning what would have been their first provincial title since their last All-Ireland winning year of 2010.
They were given no chance before it and even less of one after 15 minutes. But once they got into their stride and started to find ways to threaten the Kerry goal.
Once they got their gander up, all of the potential that’s in them starts to flow out. They scored three goals and could easily have had twice as many.
The idea that Kerry took them lightly is not an unfeasible one, particularly in light of the way the game started. But once the game got thick, Cork wouldn’t let them go.
We hear so much about the uniqueness of Corkness, but it’s exactly like Downness.
There is no explaining why a team that bobs along doing nothing for so long can suddenly get their teeth into a game and become this unstoppable force of nature.
The problem with it is that it doesn’t last. It is, after all, only four years since reigning All-Ireland champions Kerry needed an accidental Fionn Fitzgerald equaliser to snatch a replay in the Munster final.
It’s not two years since they had Mayo by the lapels in a round-four qualifier, only to lose by a single point after extra-time. That was a Mayo team that would go on to suffer its most piercing heartache in all of its search for Sam.
Occasionally, Cork are still capable of taking all the criticism and all their talent, bundling it together and spitting out a performance that belies everything that we see from them the other 51 weeks of the year.
That, however, won’t cut it in the Super 8s.
Cork cannot claim to be among the best eight sides in Ireland right now. They’ve reached the Super 8s by beating Division Four side Limerick and promoted Division Three outfit Laois.
Meanwhile, Tyrone have played Derry, Antrim, Donegal, Longford, Kildare and Cavan.
Mayo have played New York, Roscommon, Down, Armagh and Galway. Even Dublin have had a tougher route.
Most are writing off Meath on account of how they did in the Leinster final, but it’s the Rebels who should be most worried.
Despite their momentum, this is a huge step up for Cork. What they have at their disposal is a few elements that will cause teams trouble. Their full-forward line of Mark Collins (1-35), Brian Hurley (7-4) and Luke Connolly (2-18) has done a fair bit of scoring damage this year, and will continue to do so.
They have a serious goal threat, though while that trio raises many of the green flags, it’s a lot about the running power of Ruairi Deane- their outstanding operator – and Matthew Taylor in particular.
Where they overwhelmed Laois was on kickouts. Cork pushed right up man-for-man and when it went long, they invariably won it even in spite of losing Killian O’Hanlon to an early knock.
Despite the attacking end of it being rather handsome, there were enough areas of their last two performances to justifiably worry about how their defence will cope.
Dublin in Croke Park first could turn into a complete disaster for them. They won’t overwhelm Dublin on kickouts and so they either have to drop off or else their willingness to push up has to be better organised.
If they don’t, they’ll suffer one of two consequences. One is that they’ll give Dublin all their own kickouts anyway because a man-to-man press is useless against Stephen Cluxton. The other is that if they go after that and don’t win any ball, Dublin could put a very big score up on them.
Cork played with no sweeper at all in the first half against Laois, and while they were better defensively with a man dropped back in the second half, John Sugrue’s side still had half-a-dozen glimpses of goal across the 70 minutes.
There is no settled look about their defence. They’ve used 14 different men and have only started the same back seven in consecutive games twice this year.
James Loughrey (since his return against Limerick after a few months out) and Kevin Flahive have been their man-markers, but the defence as a unit has been unconvincing.
Cork could trouble teams and put scores up. They’ll get goals at some stage of the Super 8s. It is an unkind fixture list that has them in Croke Park against both of last year’s All-Ireland finalists first, meaning their hopes will most likely be dead by the time Roscommon come to Páirc Úi Chaoimh.
The Corkness could all have been beaten out of them again by then.
Tyrone have improved since they dished out an awful hammering last year. There can be no certainty that Cork have made any huge level of progress since.
There are no hiding places now, and there’s little evidence to suggest that the Rebels are at this level.
* * * * * * * * * * *
RONAN McCARTHY’S BEST TEAM
2019 OVERALL TOP SCORERS
Mark Collins 1-35 (0-19 frees)
Brian Hurley 7-4
Luke Connolly 2-18 (0-12 frees)
Michael Hurley 0-12
Mattie Taylor 2-5
2019 CHAMPIONSHIP TOP SCORERS
Mark Collins 1-25 (0-15 frees)
Brian Hurley 5-4
Luke Connolly 2-0
EVERY MINUTE MEN
Players to have played every minute of league and championship
Kevin Flahive (700)
SUPER 8s FIXTURES
Croke Park, July 13, 7pm: Dublin v Cork
Croke Park, July 20, 5pm: Cork v Tyrone
Páirc Úi Chaoimh, August 3/4: Cork v Roscommon