Tuesday 15 October 2019

Colm O'Rourke: Cork could do with Dublin's killer instinct

The Rebels rose to earn the redemption Jim Gavin still seeks

Cork silenced the doubters last Sunday as players like Barry O’Driscoll, above with Kerry’s Killian Young, took the fight to their rivals.
Cork silenced the doubters last Sunday as players like Barry O’Driscoll, above with Kerry’s Killian Young, took the fight to their rivals.
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Perhaps the only ones in Killarney who were disappointed with Fionn Fitzgerald's brilliant equalising point were the Cork players. Certainly all of Kerry rejoiced, as did the hotels, pubs, shops, restaurants, bed and breakfast establishments and a hundred other small businesses who will gain from another big day out. At the busiest time in the tourist season, it adds a bit more cream.

When Cork reflect on last Sunday's drawn Munster final they can look on it as an opportunity spurned, or take the opposite view and see a chance to finish off a wounded animal. In this scenario, Cork will be Munster champions and with an extra high-quality game under their belt from which some of their younger players can gain the sort of experience that never comes with training. Of course it is always rash to dismiss Kerry, but it is hard to see them coming off a defeat to become a major force in the qualifiers.

So the stakes are high next Saturday evening and both teams are likely to change.

By half-time last Sunday Kerry had begun to look their imperious best. The Gooch was not being missed and the Kingdom had assumed their customary swagger. What a difference 37 minutes makes. The implosion of Kerry was startling while Cork's young and old, Barry O'Driscoll and Alan O'Connor, carried the fight to their opponents. Colm O'Neill got more involved too and it never ceases to amaze how, if Plan A of trying hard is not working, then Plan B of trying even harder can change things around.

Kerry are now set many puzzles which in the long run may be bad news for opponents. The defence cannot survive without a sweeper. The loss of a physical presence like Aidan O'Mahony from full-back was bigger than expected while the half-backs, who looked good going forward, were dreadful in their primary role of defending. Alan O'Connor for Cork was the dominant influence at midfield in the second half, just from horsing about and causing maximum disruption, but he lifted everybody else by his attitude.

Kerry were poor on breaks and profited from a few short kick-outs in that second half. From one such kick Marc Ó Sé gave the foot pass of the year to Colm Cooper who stroked the ball over the bar. Cork, with Kerry in a bind at midfield, should have pushed up man to man and not allowed any short kick-outs.

The loss of David Moran, Kerry's dominant midfielder, to a black card early in the second half was acute. He wins a lot of ball and is a very good passer, nobody else plays that role as well.

They also need to keep Bryan Sheehan on the field even when he tires, maybe move him into corner-forward. There are always vital frees near the end of a game and Sheehan is a king in that regard, while the Gooch is probably better on for the whole game.

In contrast, Cork have fewer problems to address and probably should start as they finished. Those players could not give any more and silenced the doubters, myself included, who thought Cork lacked the stomach for a battle. They should be delighted to do it all again as nothing makes a team as quickly as a united front in a no-holds-barred fight.

Yet for all of that I still think Kerry will win. For a spell at the end of the first half they showed how football should be played and they are likely to do it for longer this time.

In Croke Park today Dublin will seek to crush the hopes of Westmeath and in the first 10 minutes if possible. Some great teams of the past could start off slowly and keep increasing the pace as the game wore on. Dublin begin at one hundred miles an hour and keep it up. At least in Leinster anyway. When they head off to play in the big league things can come unstuck, as happened last year, if their opponents can survive the initial onslaught.

If Westmeath are within a few points after 15 minutes they will be doing really well, they could even think of moving the bus upfield then.

Against Meath two weeks ago, Westmeath were so bad in the first half that they could easily have conceded another couple of goals. If their defence opens like the Red Sea again today it could get embarrassing as heart, spirit and all the other manly qualities Westmeath possess will be like nothing compared to the Dublin onslaught.

Those who have never coached a football team always come up with the solution to play a sweeper. That is all very fine but no sweeper can stop extra men pouring forward if the runs are not being covered. One prime example of this for Dublin is Philly McMahon who wanders off from corner-back, often over to the other side of the field, and gets involved in a move right up to the other end. Last year when Dublin's defenders bombed forward there was plenty of space for the counter-attack. This time around they seem to have developed a system where more defenders stay in position to mind the chicken coop in case a fox appears.

Even at that it does not appear to disrupt their attack and Jack McCaffrey is now able to both defend and cause panic going forward. The usual suspects will cause damage: Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly, Bernard Brogan, Dean Rock - and about 15 more. There will be no let up either as everyone on the field and the subs who come on are fighting just as hard against their team-mates for a jersey as against the opposition.

Westmeath were clever with their kick-outs against Meath in the first half when the flow was against them and Darren Quinn is very good at kicking at a low trajectory. Kieran Martin was inspired going forward and combative as well. Denis Corroon is another honest grafter while Ray Connellan was good when moved to midfield. John Heslin has always been expected to win things on his own and has suffered in the past from supporters expecting too much of a young man. It can cause a lot of frustrations but Heslin rose to the challenge against Meath and whatever way things go for him today, he is still a good footballer.

Heslin and the rest of the Westmeath players who made history against Meath will realise very quickly that this is a different contest. When the Roman generals paraded in their chariots after winning a great battle they had a slave behind them to whisper in their ear, beware, all glory is fleeting. Jim Gavin has heard that slave every day since the Donegal match last year.

The path of redemption now is for Dublin to ruthlessly destroy all opponents on the way to the All-Ireland. It is going to happen again today.

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