Saturday 21 April 2018

Comment: Incredible Cork statement a fitting end to a sorry championship exit

Brian Cuthbert
Brian Cuthbert
Declan Whooley

Declan Whooley

Prior to the Cork-Kerry replay, suggestions from former Rebel footballer Conor McCarthy that Kerry are "intuitive masters of the dark art of referee plámás” got tongues wagging.

Referee Padraig Hughes' decision to award a very soft penalty in the first instalment when the Rebels were in the ascendancy was the obvious and main reference point, but he wrote that their ability to "win" decisions was a trait the Kingdom had perfected better than anyone else.

"Cute hoorism" as they say down those parts.

Following the replay, another player well accustomed to the fixture, Mike Quirke, took up the point raised by McCarthy in the same paper and even as a Corkman, it was difficult to find fault with the four-time All-Ireland winner.

While at pains to add it was an "incredibly insightful" article, he simply couldn't agree with the assertions made about the "dark arts".

"It told me much more about the weak mentality that exists in the Cork dressing room than it did about Kerry’s ability to con referees," he wrote.

Some might say such a conclusion is only what you would expect to hear from a Kerry perspective, with the accusation of an "inferiority complex" bound to vex some over the border.

Read more: 'Cork statement is a complete joke' - Pat Spillane criticises explosive County Board message

"Maybe they don’t even know it’s there (inferiority complex)… but when you start to itemise bad refereeing decisions made against you, and you start to see Kerry as having an innate ability to manufacture those good calls through a nod and a wink with the referee, you are in a bad head-space."                        

The penalty decision occurred with 20 minutes remaining in the contest. As the mathematically astute might observe, more than enough time to recover, though it was just the fillip the home side needed when it appeared their unbeaten 20-year record at Fitzgerald Stadium against their neighbours was coming to an end.

Cork's Mark Collins, 3rd from right, reacts as referee Padraig Hughes awards a penalty to Kerry

Quirke referenced the post-match interview and the "dejection" shown by Cuthbert.  Disappointment would be a natural reaction, but it was effectively just half-time, yet it appeared from the sound bites alone that the ship had sailed for Cork to lower green and gold colours.

A Paul Kerrigan goal in the replay before the break kept the game alive, but the hosts were full value for their win. Six days later and the side appeared rudderless, looking more like an amalgamation of players at a trial game than the outfit that appeared to be sending Kerry through the backdoor just a few short weeks beforehand.

The incredible statement from the Cork County Board yesterday did little to dispel the notions of a "bad headspace" on Leeside.

"The tremendous performance of the team in the drawn Munster Final has been widely acknowledged, and it is quite probable that but for a totally wrong refereeing decision in that game, Cork would now be in an All-Ireland Semi-Final," the statement read while praising the contribution of the out-going Cuthbert.

Read more: 'Totally wrong refereeing decision cost us semi-final place' - Cork County Board launches scathing attack on referee Padraig Hughes

To attribute Hughes' call as the "probable" reason for Cork's failure to reach the last four is somewhat staggering. A team with serious aspirations of Sam Maguire must cope with adversity at different stages along the way, though admittedly Dublin are doing their best to break that particular mould.

Cork had twenty minutes after the penalty to press home their earlier advantage. They had a second bite of the cherry a fortnight later. For the majority of the qualifier in Thurles, it was hard to distinguish the Division One team from the one that will be toiling in Division Three next season.

Paul Cribbin celebrates his point against Cork and has been one of the key components of Kildare’s revival

You get a sense that Roy Keane, a keen follower of the hurler's fortunes, would be focusing on 'controlling the controllables' in assessing where it all went wrong for Cuthbert and co. For example while a nation wept at the infamous Thierry Henry handball in 2009 and Irish supporters were baying for referee blood (and subsequently FIFA), the former captain was more concerned with the role of Shay Given and Paul McShane in the lead-up to the goal. The controllables.

By the same token, perhaps energies would be better channelled by focusing on what the Cork players, or indeed backroom team,  could have done rather than the decisions the officials didn't make.

Colm O'Driscoll's passionate defence of the departing manager was an indicator that he was indeed held in high regard by those within the circle, but he decided against another term. In a results business, it could be argued that it was the performances which were the final nail in his coffin.

The official reaction from the County Board was perhaps a fitting end to a sorry campaign which promised so much when Cork finished top of Division 1A just four months ago.

One could argue the only thing more "wrong" than the penalty call was the statement itself.

Online Editors

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport