Cautious Rebels fail to convince in rout of Sligo Yeats men
In the early days under Brian Cuthbert Cork seemed intent on delivering poetry in each performance, but they met Sligo in Tullamore last night intent on realigning themselves to the fundamentals. A Munster final hiding from Kerry was the latest in a series of shellackings, one more troubling than the next. They arrived with six team changes and a radically revised gameplan.
The implications of Kerry's 12-point Munster final win were evident and unedifying. They unveiled an exceedingly cautious game of mass defence, playing with four forwards and, at times, having only one player in the opposing half of the field. Mark Collins and Colm O'Driscoll stayed out the field despite being named in the half-forward line.
This was not a reliable test run of the system as Sligo put up little resistance until Cork had gained a tight command of the match. The Rebels will experience a more searching probe when they meet Mayo next weekend in the All-Ireland quarter-finals. The new gameplan, with all due respect to last night's opponents, is designed with Mayo in mind. Will it stand up? Will Cork? Not on the basis of what they showed here.
On this evidence they don't look in a terribly convincing place, rather a team that seems unsure of itself. Sligo had gained some renewed purpose in the qualifiers, with wins over Wicklow and Limerick, and put up enough of a show to feel they have something to build on and carry them forward to next year. But they never really looked capable of winning.
In the second half they started to gain added belief and with the breeze at their backs, they went at Cork. They trailed 0-10 to 0-2 at half-time, fell three points deeper in arrears five minutes into the second half and looked beyond rescue. Instead Cork let them back into the match, and filled their heads with notions.
Over the next ten minutes Sligo outscored Cork 1-5 to 0-2, Charlie Harrison kicking a sweet point and Adrian Marren reeling off three in a row from frees. When Marren's long ball was guided home by Stephen Coen, Sligo were on 1-7, Cork sitting on 0-15. Coming up to the hour a Mark Breheny point brought Sligo to within four points and Cork needed to shake themselves.
They did with four points in a row and five of the last seven, but the performance still didn't convince that they are playing with fluency or sufficient harmony to defeat the Connacht champions.
They had two big displays from Colm O'Neill and Paul Kerrigan, the players who did the heavy lifting and looked up to championship pitch. Kerrigan created terror in the Sligo backline whenever he ran with the ball, and he was an influence on the match from start to finish. Among his five points from play were some direct responses to Sligo flags, the mark of a leader.
O'Neill ended with 0-10, six from play, and might have had a couple of goals. Brian Hurley and Donal Hodnett had quiet games and in the middle of the field, Cork may have to revise options again. Ian Maguire, a 20-year-old playing his first championship match, kicked a tidy point but was taken off and replaced by Fintan Goold, who looked more at home. Cork may not want to risk a relative novice against Mayo's experienced midfield men.
Referee David Gough didn't endear himself to the Sligo followers, or players, with several baffling first-half decisions in Cork's favour the Yeats men struggled to stay in the game. After Breheny scored the game's first point in the third minute they failed to add to their total for 24 minutes, Marren converting a free. David Kelly had three Cork players for company at times and wasn't helped by slow ball release from those suppose to be feeding him. Sligo might have been better served to drill through the middle even with the compression of red shirts but instead dallied and made little headway.
At one stage late in the first half there were 13 Cork players inside their own 45 with Sligo in possession and looking for an opening with none to be seen. Yet Cork still look jittery when high and direct ball came in, their policy of crowding the space in front of goal with bodies seeing two players going for the one ball and some ambiguity about who was supposed to do what. Sligo's prospects receded when Kelly went off injured 12 minutes into the second half, troubled by a hamstring since before the interval. Coen scored 1-1 and Marren kicked the game's last score from play but they were light up front and didn't have the forwards to trouble a conventional Cork defence, let alone one with a pile of auxiliaries.
Cork sat back and absorbed whatever Sligo could throw at them through the opening half and hit them on the counter-attack. They looked set to win by what they liked at the point - the betting handciap was nine points - but the slack periods in the final half hour leaves them uncertain of what they can produce when Mayo come out of the tunnel.
Scorers - Cork: C O'Neill 0-10 (3f, 1 '45'), P Kerrigan 0-5, A Walsh 0-2 (1f), I Maguire, L Hodnett (f), B Hurley (f), D Cahalane 0-1. Sligo: A Marren 0-6 (5f), S Coen 1-1, M Breheny 0-3 (1f), C Harrison 0-1.
Cork: K O'Halloran; J Loughrey, E Cadogan, N Galvin; M Shields, T Clancy, B O'Driscoll; I Maguire, A Walsh; M Collins, P Kerrigan, C O'Driscoll; C O'Neill, B Hurley, D Hodnett. Subs: F Goold for Maguire (45), D Cahalane for Clancy (51), D Goulding for Hodnett (57), J O'Rourke for O'Driscoll (61), J Dineen for Walsh (68).
Sligo: K Cawley, R Donovan, N Ewing; C Harrison, B Egan, B Curran; A McIntyre, K McDonnell; P Hughes, M Breheny, J Kilcullen; S Coen, A Marren, D Kelly. Subs: J Hynes for Kelly (inj, 42), S McManus for Kilcullen (63), C Griffin for Coen, E McHugh for Curran (69).
Referee: D Gough (Meath).
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