Monday 23 October 2017

Rebels accept free pass but there are roadblocks ahead

Paidi O Se

I 've read a lot in the last few days that this Cork team could dominate Gaelic football for the next few years after their victory in the All-Ireland final last Sunday.

And that may well be the case -- there's no doubting that in terms of numbers they look to be holding a lot of aces. Certainly it's hard to think of another squad at the moment with a panel of 30 as strong. The county's strength in depth must be a cause for envy among the rest of Gaelic football's superpowers.

And, from what I gathered, their training throughout the year was very intense and that was proven in the manner in which they selected their team. Counihan's frequent rotation of players showed that he was picking his players on form.

I must say that nowhere has one man more than anyone else come into his own like Aidan Walsh at midfield. I said in my column on the day of the match that he's a player with a big future. He proved me right. He reminds me of a young Jack O'Shea; there is still a share of corners on him but he is a lad who will go the distance.

But now -- and with the greatest of respect to the men and women of Cork -- comes the part where I sound a note of caution: Conor Counihan's men had a free pass this year so talk of domination, while understandable, is ill-advised.

They did not have to play Tyrone in Croke Park this year; and, more importantly, they did not have to play their old nemesis Kerry in Croke Park this year either.

In each of the previous five years, football teams set off from the Rebel County to Dublin full of hope and ambition that this would be their year only to be sent back from HQ with their tails between their legs by Kerry.

This year James McCartan and Down did Counihan and Co an enormous favour by sending Kerry home to lick their wounds.

Even as hampered as Kerry were this year by injuries, absentees and suspensions, the way Cork played in this year's All-Ireland race, they would not have been too confident if Kerry had appeared in their path at some point in the latter stages of the championship.

And if I was to scrutinise the field, the area where there was a cause for concern for Cork was in and around the goals. They still don't have a Gooch Cooper, they don't have a genius who is able to make a score out of nothing.

More than anything, I think that winning this All-Ireland gets the monkey off Cork's backs. It was especially important for them to finally get their hands on the Sam Maguire because a lot of the lads will have got the confidence they needed if they are to take their football to another level.

The very fact that they won tight games against quality opposition like Dublin and Down and won games that they didn't play well in will stand to them and give them an edge that they didn't have before.

There is a great kind of feelgood factor about Cork winning, especially the way that they pipped Dublin in the last five or six minutes and the way there were led through the first half by Down before they mounted a comeback.

Also last week I noticed that there were lots of things that were coincidental. This was the first time I had seen a player get three frees

from the exact same position on the 50-yard line. I also felt there were things that would make many of the old timers very happy -- there was a lot of high fielding around the field, for example. It was good to see and was a fairly prominent feature of the game.

Cork will also be boosted by the display of their minors in the curtain-raiser. They showed a bottle and determination that you wouldn't usually associate with current Cork football teams. Although they didn't beat Tyrone, they overcame the odds to pull the margin back to a one-point deficit. They also showcased the wealth of talent that is coming through the ranks, like Cork legend Niall Cahalane's son Damien, who was outstanding throughout the championship.

Getting back to the seniors, I think Cork deserved this All-Ireland more for some of their performances in previous years than this year. They stuttered over the line this time round but I know from personal experience as player and manager that it doesn't matter how you get there, only that you get there.

A lot of present Kerry footballers had some sleepless nights over the last week, they found the All-Ireland final weekend a hard one to spend. They are not used to watching from the sidelines and are marking time until their opportunity comes around again.

Sunday Independent

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