Saturday 14 December 2019

Struggles against Sligo show Cork are just not ready to take on Mayo

Mark Brehany, Sligo, in action against Aidan Walsh, Cork
Mark Brehany, Sligo, in action against Aidan Walsh, Cork

Eoin Liston

It was clear from the first ball that Cork were under big pressure to perform against Sligo. This column said as much on Saturday.

But it's very hard to take anything from the game in terms of really assessing where they're at.

Sligo were very poor at the basics of the game, yet Cork only managed to break even around the middle and gave away a huge amount of possession under very little pressure.

The Rebels needed a big 70 minutes as much for their own confidence as well as to send out a message that they are serious contenders. I don't believe they did that.

It may seem harsh given they hit 0-21 and the game was over as a contest by half-time, but there's too much work to do.

At the end of the day, Cork must be judged by the standards of All-Ireland winners because that's where they are aiming.

On Saturday, Brian Cuthbert acknowledged his mistakes against Kerry by deploying Colm O'Driscoll and Mark Collins as sweepers in a crowded defence.

It's certainly a move in the right direction. But it's too late in the summer to be changing the approach so dramatically. Collins and O'Driscoll, for example, weren't even on the starting team for the Munster final.

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It takes months of work and preparation to really perfect a certain style of play. Time is a commodity that Cork simply don't have.

In Mayo next Sunday, they will face a team which is quite the opposite to themselves. James Horan's team are settled and firmly at the peak of their development cycle.

In truth, Cork are in bonus territory now. They have made too many personnel changes over the past nine months and it seems to me that the Cork management are struggling to find their best 15 or even 20 players.

The form of Brian Hurley must be a major concern because he has the potential to be a really serious operator. He looks shy on confidence.

There are positives, however. Paul Kerrigan kicked 0-5 from play and it's a welcome return to form.

Colm O'Neill, meanwhile, once again showed he is one of the true marquee forwards in the game.

But the time and space afforded to them by Sligo will not be available against Mayo or, indeed, anyone else left in the championship.

Croke Park will suit them in terms of the size of the pitch, but Mayo are seasoned campaigners at headquarters and will just block off the outlets to goal. It may well be the case that their preparation for 2015 has already started.

Another side with much work to do is Galway. They play Kerry next time out and, while I can't be overly confident, I can't see them going any further.

They are very young and physically, as it was shown once again in the win over Tipperary, they need to develop.

Alan Mulholland has certainly worked on improving certain areas, but they lack that intensity in the tackle that the best teams have in abundance.

They get men back behind the ball when the opposition have possession, but a lot of the time they are merely bodies filling space and don't actually do anything to win it back.

Tipperary matched them stride for stride in the opening half and were it not for the sucker punch of two goals just before half-time, they would really have had Galway asking questions of themselves.

OPPORTUNITY

But even after Galway got ahead, they didn't use the opportunity to really put the game to bed.

Instead, over the last 20 minutes, they were outplayed and they completely lost concentration. The amount of ball they wasted was criminal.

As Mayo showed in the Connacht final, a top team will just destroy you if they keep getting possession handed to them on a plate.

There is no doubt, however, Galway can play when they put their mind to it.

Paul Conroy and Shane Walsh, for example, have impressed me a lot. A week, however, is just not enough to get them to the level of Kerry.

To be fair, at the outset of the year, an All-Ireland quarter-final would have been the realistic aim for this set of players. They've achieved that, and the pressure will be off them heading to Croke Park.

Now, however, the big boys really kick into gear, and I don't believe Galway will cope with the rise in temperature.

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