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Tuesday 17 October 2017

Rebels' road to redemption

WHITHER Cork? A short time ago, they were viewed as All-Ireland contenders.

Brian Cuthbert was the antidote to the caution and, in truth, unfulfilled potential of Conor Counihan's reign.

And all those retirements of so many trusted heads was viewed a good thing. New broom. Clean sweep.

Let's take their last three competitive matches as the window through which to view their well-being.

First up, they have been turned over and sickened to their core by Dublin in a League semi-final.

Fine. It happens.

But there were initial signs of danger in Croke Park that evening when a ten-point lead became a 
seven-point deficit.

Had Tipperary displayed just a little bit more nerve and some cooler shot selection, they would have turned Cork over in Páirc Uí Rinn.

It wasn't that Tipp had chances but couldn't seal the deal. They absolutely blew it.

That's Tipperary. In Páirc Uí Rinn.

Even if there's some mitigation in Tipp's performances since, only in deeper hindsight will Cork realise how close they came to an evening of holy mortifying shame.

And then you've got the Munster final. The game Cork were supposed to win.

The last football match in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. One against a Gooch-less, Galvin-less, Tomás-less Kerry team for the very first time.

flop

Even allowing for the fact that Eamon Fitzmaurice and his team pulled one out of the bag that day in a fashion that really, only Kerry can, it was still arguably the greatest flop of the aforementioned unholy trinity of performances for Cork this year.

So where to now?

Somewhat predictably, Cuthbert has made a spate of changes to his team.

Brothers Brian and Colm O'Driscoll, Ian Maguire, Mark Collins, Colm O'Neill and Donal Óg Hodnett all come into the team.

Damien Cahalane, Fintan Goold, Paddy Kelly, Daniel Goudling, Barry O'Driscoll and John O'Rourke are listed on the bench.

But in truth, their malaise against Kerry lay deeper than merely the identity of the players occupying the jerseys.

And really, it wasn't attributable to a simple system malfunction either. Although that didn't help.

Cuthbert likes his team to kick the ball. He encourages forwards to stay in the half of the pitch for which their positions were initially intended.

And he encourages his half-backs and midfield to bomb forward.

Which is all well and good.

But when that allows James O'Donoghue to get as many touches of the ball as he enjoyed in the Munster final without the claustrophobic feel of opposition defenders?

In twenty-three minutes of the first half, the scoreline went from 0-3 each to 0-13 to 0-3 in Kerry's favour.

And to watch that spell again is to conclude that yes, Kerry's movement and scoretaking was sublime.

But also, that Cork's players didn't have the faintest notion, other than physical exertion, how they might have stopped the avalanche at source.

Sligo are a decent team. But operating at the lower end of the market.

They were hammered by Galway and had only Wicklow and Limerick to overcome to arrive safely back at this juncture.

It's as far as they go.

ODDS: Cork 1/20, Draw 20/1, Sligo 10/1

VERDICT: Cork

ALL-IRELAND SFC ROUND 4A
CORK v SLIGO
(Tullamore, Today, 5.0, Live SS3)

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