Tuesday 25 June 2019

Cork need to curb Maher and Moran

18 January 2015; Cork manager Brian Cuthbert. McGrath Cup, Semi-Final, Cork v Waterford, Clashmore, Co. Waterford. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
18 January 2015; Cork manager Brian Cuthbert. McGrath Cup, Semi-Final, Cork v Waterford, Clashmore, Co. Waterford. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

While Cork's winning run was brought to an end by Donegal in Ballyshannon last Sunday, they again showed a never-say-die attitude, which augurs well for their prospects of reaching the knock-out stages of the National Football League.

As in the previous two games against Dublin and Monaghan, they were on the back-foot in the second half, and the signs were certainly ominous when, playing into a strong wind, they trailed by five points with 48 minutes gone.

Although the dismissal of Donegal's talismanic attacker Michael Murphy was unquestionably a factor in what transpired subsequently, Cork must be credited for the manner in which they battled their way back into the contest, going under by the bare minimum in the end.

They were a little unlucky not to come away with a draw, and, even if they didn't play well in what was a mediocre encounter overall, it was easy to appreciate why Brian Cuthbert was keen to dwell on the positives after the game.

The Rebel boss praised the character shown by his charges, stating that, in view of the windy conditions, the game was always likely to be a bit of a lottery, and that there was always something to be learned from playing Donegal - the acknowledged masters of blanket-defending in the modern game.

Cork have been leaning towards a more defensive approach than was the case this time last year when they earned rave reviews from their brand of all-out attacking football which saw them clock up four victories fin their opening four games.

They later claimed Kerry's scalp as well, dishing out a 2-18 to 1-11 drubbing to Eamonn Fitmaurice's side in Tralee.

It led to all sorts of gloomy predictions as to what the immediate future had in store for the Kingdom, who were firmly cast in the role of the underdog when the teams renewed rivalry in the Munster final at Pairc Uí Chaoimh.

That turned out to be a chastening experience for the home side, whose defensive frailties were glaringly exposed as Kerry cruised to an 0-24 to 0-12 win - a result which was the catalyst for their march to the top against all the odds in 2014.

Having been similarly overwhelmed by Dublin in the last 30 minutes of the league semi final, it also brought it forcibly home to the Cork management that they could no longer persist with the cavalier style of football that had enabled them to top the table in Division 1 last season.

It isn't unreasonable to suggest that Cork will have benefited from the lessons learned last year, and, even if their current brand of football isn't as easy on the eye, they are probably better equipped to deal with the challenges ahead than they were during Brian Cuthbert's initial season at the helm.

Given that their humiliation by Kerry in last year's championship couldn't have been anticipated, it might be fair to conclude that Cork were caught on the hop to a certain extent on the day, and that they aren't too far behind the old enemy in football's pecking-order at the moment.

They will certainly relish the opportunity to lay down a marker in next Sunday's league clash at Pairc Uí Rinn, and it can be safely said there will be no tame capitulation on the Rebels' part this time.

While a league game in March can never be used as a pointer to the championship, it would do Cork's confidence no harm at all were to get back to winning ways at the expense of the All-Ireland champions, all the more so considering Kerry are enjoying their best start in the spring campaign since Eamonn Fitzmaurice assumed the reins of control.

They made it two wins out of three when finishing deserving victors over Dublin last Sunday, with the dominance achieved by David Moran and Anthony Maher at midfield providing the platform upon which the foundations for their success were largely built.

Coping with the physicality that Moran and Maher bring to the table for Kerry is going to be no small order for Cork, and they will be hard-pressed to prevail if they are forced to play second-fiddle in this sector.

On the other hand, should Cork manage to match Kerry territorially and provide a decent service to the inside line of attack, there is every chance that Brian Hurley - who was in devastating form in last season's league clash in Tralee - and Colm O'Neill, both of whom were starved of possession in the Donegal game, can inflict enough damage to secure a home victory.