Friday 26 April 2019

It's do or die for Cork in Orchard county

NFL Division 1 Round 7: Armagh v Cork, Sunday, March 24, The Athletic Grounds, Armagh 2pm

Mattie Taylor of Cork in action against Jamie Brennan of Donegal during the Allianz Football League Division 2 Round 6 match at Páirc Uí Rinn Photo by Sportsfile
Mattie Taylor of Cork in action against Jamie Brennan of Donegal during the Allianz Football League Division 2 Round 6 match at Páirc Uí Rinn Photo by Sportsfile

Diarmuid Sheehan

We have been here on many occasion over the last few years yet the answers seem as far away now as they did three years ago.

Cork slumped to another disappointing showdown loss last Saturday to a Donegal side that at times looked so far ahead of Cork it really was hard to believe that they were playing in the same division at all. All that said, this, for long periods was one of Cork's best performances in some time.

Cork, as we all know by now, are struggling all over the pitch and can't seem to find the answers when teams come asking the questions.

Nobody can honestly say that there aren't enough players to pick from in Ireland's largest county, nor can they say that the players that are there aren't putting in everything they have - because when you stand pitch side and see the current crop trudging from the pitch after another heavy loss, few would say that these players haven't given their all.

Cork also have plenty of ammunition on the sidelines with no stone seemingly left unturned as Ronan McCarthy and his back-room team go in search of something like divine intervention, or in the absence of a miracle perhaps just a bit of luck.

When you are down everything seems to go against you and in Cork falling attendances, hefty numbers of injuries and nothing on the morale front has all started to take its toll.

It is genuinely difficult to stand outside the Cork dressing room after a game these days as the eerie silence from 20 exhausted and emotionally drained competitors barely raises above the sounds of the equipment being packed away. No laughing, jeering, slagging or even talking - it's a tough place to be playing the game you love.

Last Saturday afternoon little over 1,200 people bothered to pay through the turnstiles with plenty making the trip to see the ladies hammer Donegal's top female side while most of the others came to see the Ulster Championship side.

Without the breakdown, it is hard to be totally accurate but there is a good possibility, based on the crowd participation during the game that there were more Donegal supporters than Cork fans in Páirc Uí Rinn last Saturday - and that really does put this campaign into perspective.

Cork started well and showed plenty of heart, resilience and no shortage of skill in the opening half and quite honestly well-deserved their first half five-point lead.

Cork looked like they had a plan, players were getting forward and while some of the defending required a bit of luck and in the case of Kevin Crowley's magnificent intervention on the quarter hour mark to stop Caolan McGonagle in his tracks when a goal looked inevitable, no shortage of desire.

Cork were as good for the second 20 of the first half as they have been all year and there was little doubting, even considering the wind was to their backs, that Donegal were a little rattled.

Cue the second half and Cork didn't go away. They managed to keep the margin to four, three and then two points by the 55th minute, but inevitably the northern side just wore them down.

Cork had no answer at the finish. Three players injured, Mark Collins sent to the line and at the finish just 12 players on the pitch - that last five minutes really did sum up Cork football's challenges right now.

Donegal powered to the finish and when it was done stayed on the pitch for 15 minutes after the final whistle in a huddle going through the events of the day and sharing in each other's achievements.

On the other side Cork's players were showered and almost ready to go when Donegal finally made it to their dressing room - hard to blame them wanting to leave the scene of another crime as quickly as possible.

So, what can Cork take from last Saturday? Well, they can take it as read that right now they are good way off the level of Donegal, but having said that for long periods last weekend they had Donegal rattled.

Michael Murphy's class along with superb team fitness and a tremendous self-belief all over pitch meant that Donegal were always likely to win, particularly after reeling in their opponents and while Donegal deserved the win the gap at the end was a little harsh on Cork's players.

Cork will need to pull out all the stops next weekend in Armagh but that will mean that they will need to play better than they have all season, or for that matter better than they have played in more than a year.

Cork will need to do this probably without their captain Ian Maguire, one of their main scoring threats Mark Collins and also without Luke Connolly with the former and latter likely to miss out through injury while Collins will be suspended for Cork's final league fixture of the year.

Cork will also need some help from elsewhere with a draw between Tipperary and Clare the best result for the Lee-siders.

Cork need the win and despite the big-name absentees they do have a chance but it will also take serious luck for the rebels to stay up and to this point Cork really have had none.

Cork to compete and, perhaps, win but Cork will likely still go down.