Leaky Cork face testing time in wide open Croker
Published 03/03/2016 | 02:30
Peadar Healy and Kieran Kingston knew they weren't taking on Cork teams that would immediately bin past eccentricities but they might reasonably have expected some culling to have gone on.
Healy would have been encouraged by how the footballers swept past Mayo in the opening round of the Allianz Football League but events since then suggest it was more a case of Connacht champions' collapse than a Rebel rout.
Cork's 10-point defeat by Donegal might have been classed as an aberration but when it was followed by a humiliating 4-25 to 3-10 defeat by Roscommon at home last Sunday, harsh reality had to be confronted head-on.
"It's unacceptable. We the management need to find answers and find them fairly fast," said Healy.
The last place a team with a serious confidence deficit would expect to locate answers is Croke Park, with Dublin coming at them in large blue waves.
Unfortunately for Cork, that's the hand the league draws have handed footballers on Saturday night(7.0)
So too with their hurlers, who play Dublin in the curtain-raiser (5.0).
It's a less-daunting prospect for Kingston's squad, since they beat Dublin twice in last year's league, scoring the massive total of 1-61. However, the wins masked the giveaway rate, which reached 3-43.
Still, no more than with the footballers, who conceded 3-41 in their last two clashes with Dublin in Croke Park, nothing can disguise the fact (see accompanying panel) that Cork have become defensively incoherent in both codes.
Quite why remains a mystery but there's no doubt that sorting it out is the biggest challenge facing both Healy and Kingston.
The footballers have leaked an average of over 20 points in their last 10 games, a figure that exceeds 22 points if the games against Clare (Munster semi-final) and Kerry in the Munster final replay are discounted.
The bad weather for the replay was a factor in the low-scoring while Clare are a Division 3 side so 22 points is the more accurate average. It's ridiculously high for any team, let alone one with All-Ireland ambitions.
Cork hurlers have been equally leaky and while they improved somewhat in their last outing against Waterford (20 points), it came after two games against Galway where they conceded a total of 3-55.
Their defensive shortcomings make Cork's double visit to Croke Park on Saturday very interesting. It's certainly a massive challenge for the footballers, even if Dublin's attacking machine is still a long way from being fully cranked-up.
However, unless Cork are more security-conscious, they are in for a long difficult evening. The hurlers could have defensive problems too but they hit Dublin for 0-34 and 1-27 last year so they will be confident of posting another big score.
Whatever happens on Saturday, it's clear that Healy and Kingston will have to spend lots of time on defensive plans before heading for championship action.
The giveaway figures don't lie. Instead, they lead to the inevitable conclusion that either there aren't enough top-class defenders on Leeside or else the systems are faulty. Whatever the origin of the problems, Cork need to find solutions if 2016 isn't to be another disappointing season.