James Horan: Rebels were overwhelmed and ruthlessly exposed by a ferocious side
James Horan believes that Cork manager Brian Cuthbert will have a difficult task picking up his players following yesterday's sobering defeat to Dublin in the National league Final.
Hoping to exact revenge for last season's 17-point turnaround at the hands of the Dubs in the semi-final in the same competition, the Rebels offered meek resistance as the reigning champions made it three titles on the trot..
Cuthbert's side only registered their first score from play when full-forward Mark Collins goaled 13 minutes into the second half and eventually the Dubs ran out comfortable 11-point winners.
Speaking on Newstalk's Off The Ball, the former Mayo manager said that Cork's game plan was "ruthlessly exposed".
"Dublin attacked Cork with pace and variety and really overwhelmed Cork," he said. "From a Dublin point of view, it was everything Jim Gavin would want. You had a high percentage of players playing well and they are in a strong position.
"Cork were flat. It will call into question a few things about the set-up and where they are."
After topping Division One, the Rebels were expected to pose a serious challenge in Croke Park, but Horan believes that perhaps too much had been read into their early season results.
"Cork have been trying to get their identity as a team over the two years in particular. They have gone more defensive. They are working on a process to make them more defensively solid and create space for the dangermen inside.
"Throughout the League, it was working for them, but it's funny how the League progresses. The League games are at a certain standard, teams are at a certain level of fitness. Yesterday's game in Croker, the pitch, Dublin getting stronger, all those things, it exposed ruthlessly some elements of Cork's game.
One noticeable feature has been the deployment of full-forward Mark Collins into a deep lying role to orchestrate the Rebel attacks. That policy came a cropper with his marker Philly McMahon a central figure in the Dublin attack and even managing to contribute on the scoreboard. Horan argues that Gavin got his tactics spot on.
"Cork have been getting time and space in the National League with Mark Collins back there and moving the ball around at their own momentum," he says. "What Dublin did yesterday, for me is the only way to shake a team off and win really high turnovers, is they pressed them up, and pressed them really, really hard. Dublin did that superbly."
"There is a huge difference between getting close to a guy, but him still winning it, whereas Dublin yesterday were up, there was a fist in, there was contact on the guy winning the ball. They were ferocious in their pressing game and it seemed to rattle Cork to their core.
"It exposes ruthlessly some elements of Cork's game."
Joe Brolly accused Cork of "quitting" in their defeat yesterday and Horan says that the nature of yesterday's defeat, their third in the space of just over 12 months, will be a tall order. Cuthbert admitted post-match that there will be a "root-and-branch" inquest following the defeat, but Horan says there may well be psychological damage to some of the players involved.
"There are a lot of elements that Cork are doing that are okay, but there's some fundamental flaws that will have to be addressed."
"There's only a certain amount of root-and-branch that you can do. It's a tough on for Brian. Some of the players will be shook after three defeats like that, it shakes you.
"There will be questions internally and externally. It makes it a very challenging six or seven week period for Brian and his management team in the lead-in to the championship."