Friday 14 December 2018

Work to be done if Rebels are to get back on track

Allianz NFL Division 2: Diarmuid Sheehan runs the rule over the Cork senior footballers after their opening handful of fixtures

One of Cork’s stand-out performers during the National Football League, Ian Maguire. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
One of Cork’s stand-out performers during the National Football League, Ian Maguire. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

There is still time for Cork to get something from this season's National Football League Division 2, but improvement will be needed if they are to first stay and perhaps then move up to where the best sides in the country compete.

New manager Ronan McCarthy will deservedly be given time to mould his side into something that reflects his ethos of the game, but that time is not unlimited. The fans are worried, they have been for quite a while now and McCarthy will, of course, know that.

It is often difficult for people to understand why results don't reflect the ability of a team and, yet again, this is the case with Cork. The Rebel county has an impressive calibre of player throughout, but for some reason that does not seem to manifest itself on the pitch when the selected players put on the blood and bandage.

McCarthy has made changes and will continue to do so as this and subsequent seasons come and go. The fact that the new manager has a three rather than a two-year term in charge means there is confidence in the head tactician from the powers that be in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. That has to be a good thing.

Cork fans will come back, as they do every year, to support the team, but this year they deserve something more. They deserve a credible challenge in the league. They deserve to go up against the traditional minnows of Munster football and expect to win and more importantly than all else, they deserve to head into battle with Kerry in the Munster Championship feeling they have a shot.

If McCarthy and his band of merry men can provide that wish list this year then they will have succeeded. If they can't, well, this could be a long three years for the likeable, straight talking manager.

This weekend's clash with Meath will tell a lot. Cork need to bounce back from the loss to Cavan and put out one of their main competitors in Division 2. Meath have shown some signs that they are improving, but like Cork their best days are becoming a distant memory.

Twenty five years ago, this would have been seen as a mouth-watering game between the two best teams in the land that would have attracted a full house wherever it was played but now packing the stands is so far down the agenda it barely registers. Cork need to show up this weekend and they really should be looking to come away with the spoils.

High Point

Cork's victory over Down was without doubt the side's best performance of the season so far and the clearest sign that Ronan McCarthy's charges have what it takes to compete at this level of competition.

It was a strong second half display and a goal from Mark Collins that did the trick on that day as Cork bounced back from their opening round defeat to neighbours Tipperary. Cork carried that form through to the next fixture against Louth, however, they retreated into their shell half way through that game and really haven't emerged since.

Low Point

Cavan in the last round of the league must be seen as a real kick in the teeth for Cork. After under-performing, but winning against Louth, Cork came into the top of the table clash with the Breffni men eager to stamp their authority on Division 2, but they were easily dismissed by the Ulster Championship side, which was hard for loyal Cork football fans to take in. There really were few positives from that game - other than winning an almost dead rubber of a second half.

Stand out player so far

Whether you would say stand out or not might be splitting hairs, but Clonakilty's Seán White really has been impressive so far, this campaign. White has played all four league fixtures this league campaign linking well with the likes of Ian Maguire in the middle of the park.

White has strutted his stuff mainly in the half-forward line and has managed to raise white flags when the opportunities have arisen. The west Cork man has likely done enough to secure a championship start, but there are a couple of league games left so he would be wise to push on to nail down his berth.

Manager's performance

Ronan McCarthy seems to be a very genuine guy who says it how it is, while always supporting his troops. McCarthy must be complimented for his willingness to go to the bench at half time against Cavan to make four changes - showing little mercy to under-performing players.

McCarthy has so far had to plan without a host of stars this season but he will get little leeway if things don't improve soon. Overall, he looks to be in the process of turning this massive oil tanker around and we all know how long them things take to put on a different course.

New Blood

A few north Cork players are beginning to make names for themselves in the inter-county setup. Mallow's Matthew Taylor is beginning to get some real game time after failing to make it onto the pitch for most of the McGrath Cup. Taylor impressed in recent games and should be on his way to securing something like a place on the championship panel.

Kiskeam's Anthony Casey is another to impress after making his senior inter-county debut against Cavan. Casey has shown he is a very good keeper and is well on his way to becoming a mainstay for the county's top football team.

Long term view

Right now, you would need to be Keith Barry (the magician / hypnotist / mentalist) to take a stab at what 2018 is going to hold for Cork's senior football squad. The team are at such a low ebb in the public consciousness anything like a good run might be seen as success.

Cork are one of the traditional heavy weights of inter-county football, but you would be forgiven for forgetting that after looking at the last five years or so. Saying all that I think this side might surprise a few people, in a positive way, this season and from there who knows.