Monday 19 March 2018

We have the character to bounce back, vows Cuthbert

Cork’s Daniel Goulding is tackled by Jonny Cooper of Dublin
Cork’s Daniel Goulding is tackled by Jonny Cooper of Dublin
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

Defeated managers, like political handlers, usually try to spin things and find some trickle of hope after a big loss but Brian Cuthbert didn't even try after this sickening dose of deja-vu.

He did, admittedly, use the cliché of a "root and branch review" at one point but otherwise did not try to soft-soap just how bad a trimming this was.

His side had trailed by 14 points before Daniel Goulding's late goal and that was only one of their three scores from play.

The loss may not have been as dramatic as last year's lamentable 17-point turnaround to the Dubs in the semi-finals but this was even worse.

Everyone expected Cork to come to this reprieve with real fire in their bellies but the Rebels hardly produced a whimper, never mind a yell.

"From the throw-in to the end of the game we just didn't perform. We were second best to everything and right now I can't take too many positives from the game, I'm just very, very disappointed," Cuthbert admitted.

The fingerprints of highly-regarded Dublin basketball coach Mark Ingle, who has done some work with the Dubs this year, was all over the way they suffocated Cork's kick-outs and midfield in the first half, leaving their forwards up for a concerted 'full-court press' after every score.


But surely Cork had expected this and brought some strategies to defeat it?

"We were expecting it," Cuthbert said. "But the pressure they applied meant we didn't move the ball out of defence quick enough. When we did move it quick enough we were too far away from where the danger was and couldn't provide a link between the inside line. They applied the pressure at the right time and it worked for them."

Seven times in the first half alone Dublin stole Cork's kick-outs and they also pulled off four great blocks before the break.

The losing management and their tactics can't surely take all the blame for players who simply never thought or acted as sharply as their opponents.

Apart altogether from the difference in skill and pace they noticeably had no one to match the sheer bloody-minded combativeness of Jonny Cooper, a man who seems to regard every free won off him like a personal insult.

Cooper's exemplary marking of Brian Hurley yesterday set the tone for Dublin's historic third league title in a row and Cork were in oxygen debt within 25 minutes.

Like last year's trimming, this again was the sort of defeat to undermine the morale of a young team like the current Cork crop so how can they recover?

"Obviously confidence is going to suffer when you suffer a defeat like that," Cuthbert conceded.

"But it's like not like we're playing next week, we're seven to eight weeks away from the first round of the Munster Championship.

"I wouldn't, for one second, question the players' character or their ability to come back, which they've shown all throughout the league," he insisted.

"But today we didn't give ourselves a chance to be in the game. That's what's disappointing all of us most."

If he faces a mammoth task to restore his players' confidence Dublin boss Jim Gavin possibly faces as hard a one to keep the lid on the hype that will inevitably surround his team again after this breathtaking display.

It was achieved without Paul Flynn and Michael Darragh Macauley and they'd lost Rory O'Carroll to a niggle by half-time, yet the quality of replacements like Paddy Andrews (0-2), Cormac Costello and Emmet O Conghaile had most observers rolling their eyes and Alan Brogan, who togged out yesterday, is waiting in the wings.

Gavin is by now as consummate at deflecting expectations as Kevin McManamon is at wriggling out of defenders' clutches but even he accepted that winning the three-in-a-row was quite a coup for his players.

"Whenever they finish their careers they'll look back and say it was a fine achievement," he admitted.


"To keep them to such a low score from play was satisfying and to score 12 from 14 shots in the second half is a very good return for our forwards," Gavin said.

Twice he was asked if his side are in 'a better place' than last year and twice he demurred.

"Well, 12 months ago for me is in the past," he said. "I'd have a tendency not to look back if I'm honest.

"We have never, ever referenced the past with this football team. We stay in the present and look just slightly beyond the hedge at what's ahead of us. That's the way we have always approached it."

The reality is that Dublin are the Becher's Brook that every other team is peering and gulping at right now.

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