Monday 22 January 2018

Rebels stand up for each other

The Cork team stand together during the playing of the national anthem before the start of the Allianz Football League Division 2 Round 1 match between Galway and Cork at Pearse Stadium. Photo by David Maher / Sportsfile
The Cork team stand together during the playing of the national anthem before the start of the Allianz Football League Division 2 Round 1 match between Galway and Cork at Pearse Stadium. Photo by David Maher / Sportsfile

Noel Horgan

There is no denying that Cork should have won their opening league game against Galway in Salthill last Sunday. They were the better team over the 70 minutes, but failure to make the most of their chances meant they were forced to settle for a share of the spoils with the Tribesmen.

National Football League Division 2, Kildare v Cork, Sunday, February 12, St Conleths Park, Newbridge, 2pm

That they had reason to be disappointed with the outcome is beyond dispute, but they will be pleased enough with the performance and had they been told beforehand they'd get something out the match, they probably wouldn't have been complaining.

The fact is that winning away games on the road in the league is never easy and Galway, the reigning Connacht champions, were entitled to be reasonably optimistic about their chances of putting Cork to the sword.

Yet, they were outplayed for long periods of the contest, and it was only in the early stages of the second half, when Cork were arguably guilty of taking the foot off the pedal to a certain extent, that the home side enjoyed a decent spell of supremacy.

As well as clocking up fourteen wides, Cork created three clear-cut goal chances on the day, only one of which was converted by Paul Kerrigan, who ironically had a fairly miserable time with his shooting otherwise.

In fairness, Aidan Walsh's effort early in the first half was foiled by a good save from Galway custodian Rory Lavelle and with the referee having applied the advantage rule, Cork gained a modicum of consolation when Colm O'Neill pointed a free after Luke Connolly had been off target with a glorious opportunity at a critical stage in the second half, but the bottom line was that Cork could have raised three green flags, whereas Galway never managed to test Rebel netminder Ryan Price.

Cork's overall dominance is further underlined when one considers that Galway's wide-count amounted to four, making it easy to appreciate why the result doesn't paint a true picture of how the contest unfolded.

Their wastage of possession apart, it was an encouraging start to Cork's campaign in Division 2, and it augurs well for their hopes of quickly reclaiming their place in the top-tier of the league, having been relegated last season.

After Peter Kelleher and Stephen Cronin were forced to cry off due to injury, Luke Connolly and Fermoy's Tomás Clancy were included in the starting fifteen at full forward and wing-back respectively.

Both acquitted themselves well, but the two players who shone brightest for Cork were Colm O'Neill and John O'Rourke, who provided much of the inspiration up front after being sprung from the bench about ten minutes into the second half.

In light of their proven quality, it was no surprise that O'Neill and O'Rourke came up trumps when called upon, and the likelihood is that the management will be reluctant to hold them in reserve for next Sunday's clash with Kildare in Newbridge.

It's going to be another stiff test for Cork, judging by what Kildare produced in their league opener last Sunday in Navan where they thrashed Meath to the tune of ten points on the Royal County side's home patch.

It means the Lilywhites will enter the fray in a very positive frame of mind against Cork, but, as the saying goes, one swallow doesn't make a summer, and certainly a vibrant performance in early February doesn't guarantee anything in relation to what the rest of the season has in store.

Having gained promotion from Division 3 last year, Kildare would appear to be a team moving in the right direction under the stewardship of Cian O'Neill, but their championship form in 2016 was nothing to write home about, as they were ousted by Westmeath in Leinster and were well beaten by Mayo in the All-Ireland series.

On the basis of what Cork served up against Galway, they have no reason to be intimidated by the immediate challenge ahead, and perhaps the bitter memory of their championship clash with Kildare two years ago will provide them with additional motivation for the fixture.

Coming just a week after they had been denied a Munster title by Kerry in a final replay, Cork were always going to find it difficult to put their best foot forward in that encounter with Kildare, whose limitations were ruthlessly exposed by Kerry next time out.

How Cork line out next Sunday will be very interesting, but, with Stephen Cronin in a race against time to recover from the hamstring injury he incurred in the pre-match warm-up last week-end, the indications are the defence will remain intact.

Peter Kelleher might also be ruled out again, but Colm O'Neill and John O'Rourke are entitled to feel they deserve to be included up front from the start this time. There is no shortage of competition for places at the moment, despite the fact that such as Eoin Cadogan, Alan O'Connor, Brian Hurley, Jamie O'Sullivan and Noel Galvin weren't included in the squad for the Galway game.

And, along with O'Neill and O'Rourke, Barry O'Driscoll, Brian O'Driscoll, who picked up a second yellow card towards the end of the Galway match, Michael Shields and Donncha O'Connor were on the bench last Sunday, which mirrors the depth of experience in the squad.

It would be fair to say that the vast majority of the players paid their way up in Pearse Stadium, but Kevin Crowley - a fringe player for the past few seasons largely perhaps due to recurring injury problems - turned in a particularly eye-catching display at corner-back and was the most impressive defender on view.

Selector Eoin O'Neill is satisfied that the management are building a strong panel, and he believes their options are increasing all the time.

"That's what you need in the game today, because it's played at a very high pace, fellas have to work extremely hard, and you always have to introduce fresh legs to give you a bit of finishing power.

"Playing Galway in their own backyard was a very tough game to start off with in the league, so from that point of view, we're very pleased with the display today, although it's disappointing we didn't win because I thought we were the better team overall.

"We wasted a lot of chances, and the lads could have dropped their heads after we fell behind early in the second half, but they stuck at it, and the spirit and appetite for work they showed was the most encouraging aspect of the performance in my view."

O'Neill expects the game against Kildare to be equally tough, stating that Newbridge has been a notoriously hard place for Cork to get a result over the years.

"That's the challenge we have to face, but we're looking forward to it, and if we can build on the positives from today and learn from the negatives, I 'd be confident we'll do well."


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