In the third part of his championship preview, JPM casts a cold eye over the prospects for Cork.
Since their deserved defeat against us last summer Cork retreated somewhat like a quiet shadow into themselves. After that dismissal, nationally people seemed to have forgotten about them or maybe just written them down as a once-off. And nearly all of the media focus (bar the Examiner) has since been on Dublin.
But really this has suited Cork just fine. Through the spring they were simmering away nicely in the background and they slipped by rather unnoticed in the League to finish it coolly in second place. And in qualifying for their fourth final in a row they kept up a comfortable level of consistency while continuing to experiment and gain experience.
Plus if you look back at that match it really is a testament to what Cork are all about. They wear teams down. They believe that in the final 10 minutes they will have the strength to pull away. Once they get a lead in this position they will pass the ball relentlessly, intimidating the opposition, courting them to be more adventurous, all the while waiting to apply the final sucker punch. The expectation is that their muscle will persevere, with no turnover of soft possession. It may not be pretty but it is effective.
Conor Counihan has also blooded several players such as two Eoins, Cotter and O’Mahony. In the process he has been able to rest some of his key men while keeping the team fresh. Plus he has even more talent on the way back. Daniel Goulding made a welcome return in the League final and the news is that Ciarán Sheehan is also well on the road to recovery in time for the championship. In fact looking at Cork they probably possess the strongest panel in the country right now.
Also the modern game suits Cork. They know they should have the physical edge against most teams and they also have the stamina to get up and down the pitch regularly. Plus they can defend in numbers whilst still having the athleticism to quickly counterattack when the opportunities arise. Add to this the bench they carry, and the new rule change for the square. Indeed Conor Counihan and his selectors must be laughing now while considering which of their army of six-plus footers to storm in after those high bombs.
This is still only May of course. And between here and September they will have a lot tougher battles than the League final to fight. First and foremost (with all due respect to Tipp) will probably be the one against their oldest and bitterest rivals in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Cork’s recent championship record against the Kingdom is not great so they will be keen to improve this and serve further notice of their overall intent for the summer. And if the Kingdom do come to visit, it will prove an interesting insight into more of what Cork are about this year. For instance how will they attack Brendan Kealy and Marc Ó Sé in that full-back line? We wait in anticipation for that match, as it may be key to the overall outcome of this year’s championship.
The worries for Cork are that they can arrive flat on some days. Even with all their perceived invulnerability they are still liable to misfire or simply not turn up. Also it takes time for them to find their rhythm in each game. Key to knocking them down is to get out of the blocks as quickly as possible against them. To beat them it must be put up to them straight away that they cannot simply steamroll their way through each match.
Another unlikely pitfall could be the way referees perceive them. The bad press they suffered in the League final may or may not come back to haunt them but it was raised by TG4 and has seen other media focus. Cork must realise that while bullying teams into submission might seem like good practice, this attitude will be frowned upon if over-aggressive and other cynical tactics are used.
At this moment in time we know this Cork team are big, athletic men and these men hit awful hard as we found out ourselves. And the feeling is that they are going to hit even harder this year after what is viewed locally as a poor follow-up to their All-Ireland success of 2010. Losing to Mayo last year did sour that Cork team’s summer and how the rest of the country perceived them. This year what those lads want is for the rest of Ireland to sit up, take notice, and fear them once more.
Next: the rest.