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Rebels' new steel is an ominous sign

I said at the start of this summer's championship that Cork were the team to beat and yesterday's demolition of Clare in the Munster SFC final has done nothing to change that view.

There is no doubt one has to consider that this was a mismatch in terms of playing resources, and the fact that it was a Division One side against a Division Four side was obvious from the throw-in.

But, like Dublin did with Louth some weeks back, Cork can only beat what is put in front of them. There was always the question of what way Cork would approach this and whether or not they would simply go through the motions, and to their credit, they were ruthless in their annihilation of the Bannermen.



physically

I noticed a new steel in the Cork team throughout the league and again yesterday. They are a physically imposing outfit and they are using that power now to dominate teams.

Their strength in the tackle and ability to burst through the opposition at pace made it impossible for Clare to cope. The Rebels were simply operating at a different level.

Cork knew going into the game that, should they win, they wouldn't be in action again for a number of weeks. They would have wanted to lay down a marker and every player would have been aware that a poor performance would mean they could lose their place for an All-Ireland quarter-final.

They started with Nicholas Murphy on the edge of the square and used the direct ball in. This didn't work for the first few minutes but what impressed me was their ability to change their tactics seamlessly to a running game.

A criticism of this Cork team, even when they won the All-Ireland in 2010, was that they weren't direct enough and their lateral, slow build-up was too one-dimensional. They have evolved from that and yesterday the quick movement and overlapping runs were hugely profitable.

Paul Kerrigan was simply outstanding and his pace caused Clare untold problems and also offered his own team a great outlet when they needed to relieve pressure. Their scoring total of 3-16 is a healthy return in any inter-county fixture and the fact they got it all from play was a display of their ruthlessness in front of goal. They went as hard in the last minute as they did in the first and the they did so without Paddy Kelly and Graham Canty, which says it all about their strength in depth.

But Con Counihan won't be 100pc happy. One of the foundations of their consistency in recent times has been their ability to build a platform from midfield but, yesterday, I felt that Clare actually got the better of them in terms of primary possession where Gary Brennan was the dominant force and Shane Brennan picked up an enormous amount of breaking ball.

Also, Clare created at least three clear-cut goal opportunities and, on the rare occasion that they ran at the Cork defence, they opened them up with relative ease.



bench

The Clare inside line of Rory Donnelly, David Tubridy and Michael O'Shea scored 0-8 from play between them. That will be a worry and the likes of Eoin Cadogan, Ray Carey and Michael Shields will need to improve on that.

That is something that can be worked on, however, and the main thing is that Cork got through this and put on a good show.

With Canty and Kelly to return and Daniel Goulding again excellent from the bench, the signs are ominous for the rest of the country. The question now is whether or not they can impose themselves on the better opposition they will face going forward.