Rebels' power and poise help silence doubters
Published 25/07/2011 | 05:00
Oh ye of little faith... that's what must have been running through Conor Counihan's mind last week after he noticed several media experts and others casting doubts about the state of the All-Ireland champions Cork.
Too many injuries, several players out of form, the appetite is not the same since they won last year's final, etc, etc.
Maybe it is the legacy of failure that had burdened Cork for the past 20 years that influenced these doubters, but on Saturday evening the doubters were routed as impressively as hapless Down had been.
Last September they beat Down by just a single point and could easily have blown it -- on Saturday they hammered essentially the same Down team by a staggering 12 points pulling up and with nearly half the side that played in that final absent by the second half.
Now the only doubts about the Cork football team concern the capacity of any of the remaining teams in the competition to cope with them from here on.
It is easy to state now that Down were over-rated last year and that their record since then has been poor, with a first-round defeat in the Ulster championship to Armagh.
But the reality is that Cork have improved substantially since last year, aided by another league title at Dublin's expense.
The Cork power base is now centred in the middle third of the field, where they have some of the most influential players in the country in their half-back and half-forward lines, as well, of course, as their outstanding midfielders.
Pearse O'Neill, listed as wing-forward, had a massive game, and was the key figure in exerting the vice-like control that Cork enjoyed for most of the game.
His powerful running threw opponents aside like confetti in a gale and on the odd occasions that reinforcements were needed for winning possession in the middle, he was ready, willing and able to oblige.
The two actual midfielders, Alan O'Connor and Aidan Walsh, are as good a pairing as there is in the country and both have improved since last year.
With a scoreline of 2-20, few can argue with the lethal power of the Cork forwards, especially since their leading scorer Daniel Goulding was missing through injury for the greater part of the game.
The performance of Donncha O'Connor was amazing and showed that he will be a very hard opponent to tie down, even if he gets only limited possession.
And Paddy Kelly at centre-forward also continues to build on last year's excellent play.
As regards the Cork defence, what better proof of their welfare than to point out that Graham Canty wasn't even missed while he was in the dugout for the much of the game?
There are some hardy boys in this Cork back-line such as John Miskella, Noel O'Leary, Eoin Cadogan and Michael Shields, and opposing forwards for the rest of the campaign will not sleep too easily before facing them.
The contest between O'Leary and Down's young star Marty Clarke was typical of that between the Down attack and those Cork defenders.
Clarke foolishly tried to become a macho man in an effort to outdo O'Leary in toughness and should have earned a red card for one particular incident, but didn't.
Instead, the blood coming from O'Leary's face after that incident set Cork alight and when he reappeared after treatment with his head swathed in a large white bandage, you felt that Clarke was a dead man walking thereafter and so it proved.
He ended up being sent off late in the game for a second yellow and the message was clear -- you mess around with this Cork back-line at your peril.
Others beware! Down are now essentially back to square one following a majestic season last year when they almost won the All-Ireland and some new talent is needed to get the show on the road again -- even in Ulster -- especially if Clarke heads back to Australian Rules.
FEW WILL RELISH FACING LILYWHITES
There is really not a lot to write about Kildare's latest victory over Derry as they steamrolled their way through with power and pace once again.
As usual, they achieved a big scoreline, but surprisingly, considering the amount of possession they enjoyed and the pathetic performance of the Derry full-back line right through this game, they failed to score even one goal.
As in recent games, some Kildare players attempted shots from ridiculous positions, but as long as they rattle up high points totals, few of their fans will complain.
One of the downsides of Kildare's hurricane like ride through the qualifiers is that their style of play is totally exposed, such as their Armagh-like use of cross-field passes in attack. With only a week to go to the quarter-finals, this is unlikely to change and could give opponents plenty of scope for countering the Lilywhite plan.
However, it is important to state that Kildare saw off an excellent performance from Derry and manager John Brennan. Have no doubts, Kieran McGeeney's emotional embrace of Brennan at the end of the game was genuine and well earned.
We only have to consider the scoring ability of Paddy and Eoin Bradley in most Derry games to realise what might have happened had they been present and at full fitness -- you could add on another eight points at least to Derry's tally -- a sobering thought perhaps for Kildare fans.
The return of John Doyle to the full-forward line in the second half was the most significant move of this game and, no doubt, the main talking point among those enthusiastic Kildare followers all this week will be the starting position of Doyle for the next match.
But no team left in the All-Ireland can assume, privately or otherwise, that they can beat Kildare because of the high intensity of their performances.
The frenetic energy they bring to their play will scare many of the older players involved with several of the remaining teams, and very few opposing players will relish facing McGeeney's men.