Saturday 23 September 2017

'Maybe if some of these star players spent less time blathering away and let their football skills do the talking we might all be better off'

Eugene Magee

Because there are only a handful of counties with a serious chance of winning the Sam Maguire any year, it is inevitable that when two of these All-Ireland contenders clash, the game and the result has a major influence on the rest of the season.

This has always applied to the Munster meeting of Cork and Kerry, even though the qualifiers nowadays means they might not be the barometer of form they once were.

And this year there is the added factor of Dublin being the champions for the first time in 16 years, so inevitably people are wondering where Cork and Kerry stand in terms of dethroning the champions.

Well, we had very contrasting displays from this latest encounter -- with Cork looking like a team capable of challenging any opposition, including Dublin. Kerry looked like a side in decline and a long way off from winning the All-Ireland championship. But as always with Kerry, a message of their impending demise can often be misleading.

It's early days yet and September 23 -- the All-Ireland final date -- is a long way off yet and a lot could happen during that time.

But, as of now, Cork look the team of quality from No 1 to No 21 -- as they have been for the past four years, but with only one All-Ireland title to their credit. They certainly have the players to match Dublin in physique, talent and work rate, but time will tell how each of them progresses as the season unfolds.

Yesterday's game was a poor advertisement for football bearing in mind the high number of very talented players on view. It was too ugly by far, players bad-mouthing each other non-stop, dangerous attacks on opponents in the name of tackling and an atmosphere which has not been the norm for these encounters over the years.

Maybe if some of these so-called star players spent less time blathering away at every turn and instead just let their football skills do the talking, we might all be better off.

Certainly a crowd of over 23,000 for this great annual fixture is pathetic in comparison to former years and the paying public in both counties have obviously decided that there are better ways to spend their hard-earned money than watching what we saw yesterday.

But, of course, not everything was disappointing and there were many fine individual displays to emerge from the many rucks that pockmarked the game.

The most significant thing for Cork this year has been the return of several of their younger stars from injury such as Ciaran Sheehan, Donncha O'Connor and Daniel Goulding -- and they all made major contributions to the Rebel victory.

The skill of players like these is the greatest asset Cork manager Conor Counihan has at his disposal right now and is in contrast to older Kerry players who have been around the block for a decade.

The ruthless play of the Cork backs certainly paid dividends and the hits raining in on the Kerry forwards, legal and marginally so, definitely took their toll.

Indeed the arrival of Kerry sub James O'Donoghue for the second half showed what a bit of new thinking could do for this Kerry attack as he was very lively indeed. The loss through injury of another newcomer Kieran O'Leary after the break was also a blow for the Kingdom.

Kerry had two major periods without scoring which proved very costly. The first was the 18 minutes before half-time when Cork scored four unanswered points and the other was in the final 16 minutes of the game when Kerry only got one point, while Cork again scored four.

Whether Kerry fading out at the end of each half was a fitness problem or just poor concentration is a matter of opinion.

But Cork have the players who are well capable of punishing any moments of weakness and they turned the screw on Kerry in a way that vintage teams from the Kingdom did with opponents in the past.

Strangely enough, the Cork forwards, for all their talent, did not beat the Kerry backs decisively and maybe their own penchant for non-stop switching in their attack did not really help Cork that much.

Towards the end of the game, the best switch they made was to keep Nicholas Murphy at full-forward, where high balls were directed, resulting in a few crucial scores in the final 10 minutes.

The biggest debate in Kerry will probably be the role played by Kieran Donaghy.

For a few years the most dangerous attacking combination in Ireland was Donaghy at full-forward and Colm Cooper beside him, but in recent times Donaghy has been seen as much in the other half of the field.

Some will claim that he has to go out to win the ball because others are unable to do so, but the short-passing style employed by Kerry in recent years has not helped the big full-forward and the team has paid the price.

Yesterday Kerry forwards often decided to carry the ball alone through the Cork defence, which, to put it mildly, was football suicide for several reasons. Quick, long ball should have been the order of the day towards Donaghy in front of the Cork goal.

If Cork can avoid injuries they will be right up there to challenge Dublin.

Kerry's mental attitude in the short term will decide the future of several long-serving players this year.

If the spirit is willing they could make a serious challenge later on, but if not then the curtain will come down on one of Kerry's best eras.

But you know, if midfielder Bryan Sheehan was there to take the frees yesterday for Kerry either team could have won.

A sobering thought for each team for the season ahead.

Irish Independent

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