Cork Footballers showed an unforgivable degree of complacency in failing to kill off a tame Kerry challenge in Killarney yesterday. Much has been made of the Rebel’s chances of going far this year and the leesiders are widely considered to be in the top 4 sides in the country. If Conor Counihan’s men are to live up to their billing they’re going to need to perform with a ruthlessness which was lacking against their bitter rivals in the Munster semi-final.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Sunday’s clash from a Cork perspective is that the team only played in patches. The visitors went through phases of complete dominance exhibiting top class passing movement and finishing, however all too often the men in red failed to sustain their intensity and let Kerry claw their way back playing mediocre football. Leading 1-09 to 0-07 with quarter of an hour to go Cork were on course to see out a comfortable victory having dictated play in the second half. The visitors inexplicably took their foot off the gas to allow a dramatic Kerry comeback inspired by substitute Bryan Sheehan.
The two sides will meet again in Páirc Uí Chaoimh next Saturday but Counihan will know that the chances of Kerry having another off-day are slim at best. Its been a criticism of previous Cork sides that they don’t perform for the full 70 minutes and Counihan will be aware of this, not only that but the Rebels were, like their hurling counterparts, guilty of over-playing things on Sunday. With Kerry having to adjust tactics early on due to Tommy Walsh’s injury and Colm Cooper looking uncharacteristically shackey the leesiders had a prime opportunity to gain bragging rights and a place in the Munster final. Ill-discipline and squandered goal chances in the end proved the Achilles heel for Cork.
So what needs to be addressed if the soldiers of the people’s republic are to capture the Sam MaGuire? Discipline, as Kerry rallied in the final quarter Cork seemed ponderous as to how their opponents should be contained resultingin a flood of free kicks which Sheehan was happy to convert. Cork need to add consistency to their arsenal. On Sunday they proved how devastating they can be when they decide they want to play, but performing for 50-60 minutes will only get you so far. Up against the likes of Kerry and Tyrone Cork need to maintain concentration and intensity. Another feature lacking in Sunday’s display was ruthlessness. While Pearse O’ Niell took his goal chance with aplomb Cork spurned three glorious chacnes to net and really kill off Kerry. Immediately after O’Niell’s goal Goulding worked his way into a one on one with Kerry keeper Murphy but opted to take the easy point. In the second half, Paddy Kelly dragged his shot wide of the post from 8 yards before substitute Cussen failed to connect with Kelly’s fisted cross/shot.
While these are aspects for Counihan and his staff to address, it cannot be denied that he has the foundations of an excellent side. Even at a glance its clear that Cork possess one of the physically strongest teams in the Championship. Players such as Shields, Lynch, O’ Conner, Murphy, O’ Leary, Cussen are all commanding in thier positions and give Cork a distinct advantage of winning high ball. The ’09 squad draws heavily on youth with players from the victorious under 21 panles from the past couple of seasons forcing their way onto the team, the net result is a team bursting with athleticism and fitness. Cork have leaders in the form of Canty, Lynch, Murphy and O’Conner as well as class personified by Goulding, O’ Niell and co. But unless they learn to close out matches they’ll be susceptible to comebacks such as that on Sunday.