Monday 20 November 2017

Stuttering strike force killing Cork

Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

Going back over the years, Cork footballers produced some of the best players we ever saw, but year after year their performances were scuttled by woeful forwards.

It was the same yesterday in Killarney and that explains why Cork must go to a replay with Kerry, even though they dominated the game for long periods in terms of possession.

Two telling statistics tell it all for Cork: in the final 25 minutes of the first half, Cork managed to score just two points and, in the final 28 minutes of the second half, they could only manage three points. And of those five points, only two came from open play.

With a forward line like that, Cork remain very vulnerable when put under pressure for the big games. Many people, including opponents, simply do not trust their style and, more particularly, their actual performance when they enjoy substantial possession.

One can say with some validity that the Kerry attack was no better, but, in their case, they had legitimate excuses. Kieran Donaghy was missing and Tommy Walsh went off early in the game, thereby undermining the basic philosophy of Kerry's attacking plans -- to aim high balls to a member of the full-forward line and trust Colm Cooper to reap a rich harvest of scores from the resulting possession won.

With no 'twin towers' on the field, Kerry forwards were going around like headless chickens for most of the first half and only managed a meagre two points in the opening 24 minutes, a really deplorable score.

It was during that time that Cork should have sealed the result of this game because they were running in waves at the Kerry defence and looking like being a wonderful forward line. Alas, for Cork that was pie in the sky as their scoring rate subsequently proved and they only scored 1-6 from play in 75 minutes of football.

The Kerry team was in a state of chaos in that first half. When Walsh departed, Declan O'Sullivan made no contribution in the full-forward line and Cooper was outplayed fair and square by the talented Anthony Lynch.

Then Jack O'Connor started sending in the reinforcements, led by Darragh O Se, and he helped to restore some stability to the whole Kerry operation. Three points in five minutes, including a magnificent score from O Se himself, settled Kerry and put a stop, in part at least, to Cork's midfield domination.

For long periods in that opening half, Cork were tramping all over Kerry and the latter looked a bedraggled bunch. Cooper's failure to score a penalty summed up their plight. Only the magnificence of Tomas and Marc O Se prevented total capitulation, but Cork made a disastrous change of direction when they replaced James Masters with Michael Cussen in the full-forward position.

It wasn't that Masters was all that bad, but his departure indicated a change of style in the Cork attack. Up to then, they had been running at the Kerry backs in waves and opening huge gaps, even if their scoring rate was poor. But when Cussen arrived, the outfield Cork players changed to lofting in high balls and this style of attacking did not work as well for them.

The Kerry backs began to regain their initiative and so Cork only scored two points in the last 25 minutes before the break.

But in fairness to Cork, they rallied after half-time and outscored Kerry 4-2 in the third quarter to lead by 1-9 to 0-7 and things looked ominous for a near silent home following.

But then more reinforcements were dispatched from the Kerry dugout with devastating effect. On came David Moran, Bryan Sheehan and Barry John Walsh and things began to happen for Kerry in the nick of time.

The catalyst was a brilliant, inspirational point by the previously quiet Tadhg Kennelly, one of five unanswered points that rallied the Kerry crowd and seemed to mesmerise the Cork players.

The grand finale was the exchange of long-range place-kicks which ensured the draw and it has to be said that each team will be glad to get a chance to show they are better than they looked and played in Fitzgerald Stadium.

Kerry, despite their great revival, solved few of their recent problems while Cork simply revived some of their own old ones.

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