Rebels put boot in
Superb accuracy from the deadball one of striking images of Cork's success
IF each All-Ireland winning team has its own distinctive characteristics, what then are the images conjured when one thinks of this current Cork side?
Big, physical and strong? Certainly. Hard running and hard working? That too.
Yet one of the facets of the game which is quickly defining this team and in no small way contributing to its success is their dead-ball prowess.
From any distance within 50 metres and from just about every plausible angle, Cork's first-choice kickers, Daniel Goulding and Donncha O'Connor have, in the past year or so, acquired an amazingly high conversion rate and the results are fairly obvious.
Take their last three competitive games as a case study. The Rebels beat Dublin and Down in the All-Ireland semi-final and final by a single point. In their opening Allianz League match of the season, they put one over on Kerry by the same margin in Tralee.
In those same games, Goulding and O'Connor have fired over 1-26 (1-0 pen, 20f, 6 '45s') from placed balls, an average of nearly 10 points a game between them.
It's not something that happened by accident though, rather the fruits of extensive labour.
"Donncha especially has come on greatly," says Colin Corkery, one of the greatest freetakers ever to play Gaelic football. "His average when he came on to the panel four or five years ago wasn't great. But he worked on it and Daniel is a very natural kicker, but he had to do plenty of work too."
Corkery himself has tutored the two Rebel place-kickers in the recent past when then manager, Billy Morgan, asked him to advise his squad's freetakers and the Nemo Rangers man reckons part of the improvement comes from a more focused routine.
Goulding himself admitted as much this week. "I've read Jonny Wilkinson's book where he talks about taking the pressure out of the kick by creating a routine," he explained. "What you're trying to do is forget about the situation you're in and concentrate on kicking the ball. I always had a routine."
By his own admission, Corkery is a stickler himself for routine: "I always had a system where one of the things I did was when I placed the ball and to get it to sail every time, the 'nipple' had to be facing out towards the goal. The 'O'Neills' had to be vertical. Once I had that, I was mechanically set up perfectly," he reckons.
"Once you have that, the pressure goes. You never really hear the crowd or feel the pressure. Once you're doing it week-in week-out -- especially in games -- pressure doesn't come into it."
"Freetaking is instinctive. You have to be naturally very good. It's very hard to teach a guy when you have to teach him the mechanics."
Corkery, however, is less impressed with Dublin's placed-ball setup.
Firstly, he says he "cringes" when he sees a player taking frees from his hands but added that Bernard Brogan was one of the few who were good at it and because of that, Dublin don't need a specialist kicker.
"It's very hard for you to say that the Gooch isn't a good freetaker or that Brogan isn't a good freetaker because obviously they are," he says. "In those cases you don't need a specialist freetaker. But in a lot of cases, if you look back over the years, there is definitely a case for it."
Perhaps predictably then, Corkery isn't overly enamoured by the prospect of a goalkeeper taking '45s' a la Stephen Cluxton last year.
As yet, the Parnell's clubman has yet to amble upfield to take the kicks due to Tomás Quinn's spot in the team but there are no indications yet that Pat Gilroy will dispense with the policy come championship time if Quinn doesn't start.
"It's not ideal," Corkery says. "He missed a few. It doesn't look good anyway, does it? If he was knocking them over, if he was 90 per cent or 95 per cent, then fair enough.
"But surely there is someone there that has a better average than Cluxton would. But everybody is trying everything at the moment," he adds. "You're probably better bringing in the specialist."