Cork must break bad habit of slow starts – Shields
Published 31/07/2013 | 05:00
If Kerry footballers are searching for answers as to why they start fast and finish slowly, the reverse anomaly continues to perplex their rivals across the border in Cork.
For the second successive match, they found themselves adrift midway through the second half against Galway, five points down and struggling for air.
To their credit they rallied with an impressive response, including an Aidan Walsh goal, to take control in a critical last 10 minutes. But how do they get themselves in those positions so often? And is it down to an inconsistency of team selection?
The Munster final against Kerry this year and the 2011 provincial decider against the same opponents are other examples of the Rebels starting slowly in big games – even their last Croke Park clash against Saturday's opponents Dublin, the 2011 league final, saw them come from seven points down to win by a point, 0-21 to 2-14.
"It's something we've talked about. 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," admitted Michael Shields, the team's most versatile defensive asset.
"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.
"With this Dublin team, if they get a lead you're going to be in big trouble," admitted the St Finbarr's man. "That said, I think they were six points up with 20 minutes to go in that league final and we turned it around."
However, there is an element of character building too that Shields believes will stand to Cork. The fact that they can dig in when things are going badly pleases him.
"I think the last day was the perfect example of it," he said. "We were five points down and didn't lose the head. We got it back to two, then they got it back to four and eventually we got the goal and ground it out. It's a good sign of character within the team."
Shields' positioning in the full-back line has long been a crux of Cork's other great issue – getting to grips with the conundrum of what their best team is.
Former Cork All-Ireland winner Tony Davis has drawn parallels between Shields' placement and Seamus Moynihan's use at full-back for the last four years of Paídí O Sé's reign.
"He's essentially the team's fire fighter. Wherever there has been a problem in defence he's the one to address it," said Davis. "Ideally he would be out at half-back."
It's an observation Shields readily agrees with. "I grew up playing in the half-back line so it's nice to get out there playing a bit of ball," he said. "But the last few years I have been given the task of doing a job really. That's the way it is.
"If you asked any player in the full-back line would they like to come out of the full-back line, of course they would say yes."
In the four championship matches to date, manager Conor Counihan has made changes in every line with the exception of the full-forward line, where Daniel Goulding, Brian Hurley and Paul Kerrigan were kept en bloc for the three consecutive Munster matches before Kerrigan lost out last weekend to Ciaran Sheehan against Galway.
Nowhere is the uncertainty over selection reflected more than midfield, where Alan O'Connor/ Pearse O'Neill (v Limerick), O'Neill/Graham Canty (v Clare), Canty/Aidan Walsh (v Kerry) and O'Connor/O'Neill (v Galway) have been the combinations.
In the expectation that Walsh will start there on Saturday, it will be the fifth consecutive change in the engine room.
Contrast that with the stability of Dublin, who have made just two changes (Eoghan O'Gara for Paddy Andrews was enforced because of injury to Andrews for the Leinster final against Meath) in their three matches.
Perhaps in those frantic last 10 minutes against Galway the conundrum over team selection came closer to a resolution. Walsh's restoration to midfield brought greater life to his game, Paddy Kelly's involvement in some of the critical late scores signalled a return to the form and the influence that he can have, while Kerrigan is a confidence player who many on Leeside believe is too good to leave out, regardless of a dip in form.
They have started poorly in their two most significant championship games and have sparked for just two 15-minute spells in both second halves.
However, if the Rebels manage to find the right team, the reaction could yet be ferocious.