Gaelic Football

Thursday 24 July 2014

Cuthbert has already proved himself a lucky general but Rebels have yet to encounter a sweeper system

Cork and Dublin should cruise into league's last four

Colm O'Rourke

Published 16/03/2014|02:30

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Cork manager Brian Cuthbert
Cork manager Brian Cuthbert

Brian Cuthbert, the new Cork football manager, must have Tori Kelly's song on in his car at the moment. "The sun is out and I'm feeling okay, hope you have a really good day."

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It certainly looks like that for him at the moment. First-season-manager syndrome has kicked in and everything in the garden is rosy. Top of the league. He must think this job is easy.

Maybe the Cork County Board, which does not have the best record over the years with some of its big decisions, considered what Napoleon had to say when some of his advisers were extolling the virtues of an officer who was in line for promotion. "I know he is good but is he lucky?"

Perhaps Cuthbert is both good and lucky. The luck came immediately, as many of the old guard who had served Cork well decided to ride off into the sunset together, thus sparing the new manager from having to give a lot of bad news to older players.

Cuthbert also had a bunch of talented young recruits waiting in the wings. There were some more seasoned operators, too, but into the mix has come John O'Rourke, Brian Hurley, Mark Collins, John Hayes, and a couple of Tom Clancys to confuse everyone, while Daniel Goulding, Paul Kerrigan and Colm O'Neill give a bit of experience. While everyone feels for Colm Cooper, Ciarán Kilkenny and Eamonn Wallace (who is going to be a big loss for Meath), there is hope with the return of O'Neill, who has suffered more than is fair. It is great to see him back and he is raining down points already.

The departure of Ciarán Sheehan to Australia has been a big loss but the chances are he will be back. The concerns expressed a few years ago about all the good young players heading south is being shown up for what it was: scaremongering.

A thousand times more are being lost to other countries because of unemployment. Good luck to Sheehan and hopefully he will have health and happiness in his new role but some young men go away for a while and find the ties that bind them to club and county are greater than any amount of gold.

Over the last few years Cork had a big, slow team and too many left-footed forwards. Now they have speed and a better balance while their play is not so laboured. The ball is kicked into the forwards, which on the surface may seem like a throwback, a slightly naive approach, but it is far from that. This is not a case of the old days when the ball was hoofed in with a shout for the forwards to go and fight for it like everyone else. It is going to be interesting when Cork come up against a sweeper or two and their long-kicking game is only going to give the ball away. For now, the sky is clear so they need not worry about rain.

If Cork are to set to qualify for the last four then Dublin will surely be alongside. Without working up too much of a sweat, they have cruised, and with plenty of changes in personnel from last September. Yet while competition for places is fierce, it is two of the usual subs, Kevin McManamon and Eoghan O'Gara, who have their hands up for permanent places. On the evidence of this league, McManamon is one of the best forwards in the country at present.

His natural instinct is to take on his man and that is the hardest forward to mark. The black card is his friend as he is hard to stop legally once he gets motoring and he seems to have improved his shooting off his left foot. He appears determined not to be a bit player any more. Those type of super subs who come off the bench may make a big impact but none of them are happy in that role. Every good player wants to start.

While there is some evidence that the black card has made the game more free-flowing, it seems to me that the advantage rule is causing plenty of frustration among players and supporters. Where a forward is let go and then gets his shot away, he should not get the benefit of the advantage rule if he then kicks a wide. If a player gets away from a tackle and messes up a pass, he should be called back and given a free. Sadly, at the moment the five-second rule is becoming more like rugby as the referee waits with his hand up for what seems like an age.

This is a rule which should only be used sparingly and obvious frees should be blown rather than waiting while a player takes a battering in the hope he might get the ball away. And what happens when a player sees the referee with his hand up and just throws the ball on the ground and claims a free and does not attempt to play on? Can the referee penalise him? A grey area.

Division 2 is becoming a mini Ulster championship, without the fouling. It looks like Donegal with Armagh, Monaghan or Down to join them in the final and promotion.

Donegal nearly had their wings clipped last Sunday by Meath in Ballybofey. It ended in a draw and it was an absorbing contest between two very committed sides. The match had nothing much in the way of traditional football as both sides had packed defences and when

they got possession at the back there was no point in kicking to where there were very few forwards so both teams had to work the ball downfield with a series of short passes. Nonetheless, there could be nothing but admiration for the bravery and effort of the players.

The point gained is obviously of more value to Meath than Donegal and the performance was what every supporter wants to see from the players. Complete commitment laced with skill and tenacity. Nothing more can ever be asked of any man no matter what county jersey he wears. In the end, Donegal went back to the old hands to dig them out even if Christy Toye has missed a lot of games with injuries. He was a big bonus for Donegal last week. It looks like there won't be too many changes in the Donegal side in the summer. There is endurance in those old legs but on good grounds the problem may be speed.

The final score of 1-12 each was about what I would expect on a soft surface and a tight, hard-fought game. Maybe I might get to like all this handpassing after all.

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