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5 areas for Cork's footballers to focus on after league final setback

The Rebels have to try to recover from another heavy defeat to Dublin.

The Cork team before Sunday's league final.
The Cork team before Sunday's league final.
Image: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

DUBLIN MAY HAVE been the victors but the spotlight has been focused sharply on the losers after Sunday’s Division 1 football league final.

Joe Brolly wrote Cork out of the 2015 championship equation after the game and there’s been plenty others chiming in with criticism.

But how can Cork seek to turn things around before the summer showdowns?

They’re out first in Munster on 14 June against Clare or Limerick and here’s five areas to focus on before then.

1. Coping with the scars of defeat

It’s no secret that last year’s league semi-final loss haunted Cork in their subsequent Munster championship outings. There were signs of recovery in the All-Ireland series against Sligo and Mayo but not enough to preserve their interest past the quarter-final stage.

That’s a scenario they need to avoid repeating. If Cork are to recover, they’ll need to prevent the negative vibes from Sunday seeping in to destroy their championship preparations. Cork don’t have hordes of fans behind them or the acclaim of pundits ringing in their ears. They have themselves and a tight-knit group is essential if they are to seize the chance for atonement in the championship.

 

Daniel Goulding, Paul Kerrigan and Noel Galvin dejected Cork's footballers dejected after Sunday's game. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

2. The scoring reliance on Colm O’Neill

Cork’s scoring stats were a glaring problem against Dublin. Remove the two opportunist second-half goals by Mark Collins and Daniel Goulding, and you’re left with Colm O’Neill’s 52nd minute point constituting their only score from play.

They’ll know that’s an area that must be addressed. Dublin’s defence targeted Cork’s marquee man up front in O’Neill. With 5-33 to his credit before Sunday this spring, his threat was well-advertised. If he’s shut down this summer, are there other scoring sources available?

Brian Hurley and Daniel Goulding are the most natural other scorers available in their squad. But having the ingenuity to think their way around packed defences to feed their marksmen is key for Cork and that was lacking on Sunday. Brian Cuthbert admitted afterwards that their link play broke down too often.

Brian Cuthbert and Jim Gavin shake hands after the game Cork boss Brian Cuthbert with his Dublin counterpart Jim Gavin. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

3. Finding their championship midfield pairing

Cork didn’t lack options at midfield during Conor Counihan’s reign yet they live in a different era now. Retirements and the lure of hurling have cut their options. The 2013 Footballer of the Year was absent through injury on Sunday but Dublin never looked like they missed Michael Darragh MacAuley as they controlled the middle third.

Fintan Goold has been a regular fixture during the league while it’s still debatable whether the team’s pressing need for Eoin Cadogan in defence rules him out as a midfield contender.

Bringing back Alan O’Connor indicated the Cork management view the midfield issue with urgency. Ian Maguire is hugely promising yet a persistent back injury does prompt concerns over his availability. If Cork do collide with Kerry in Killarney in July, breaking the stranglehold of Anthony Maher and David Moran will be imperative.

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Anthony Maher and Alan O'Connor contest a high ball Anthony Maher and Alan O'Connor in opposition in 2011. Source: Cathal Noonan

4. Cutting that injury list

Sandwiched between those humbling defeats against Dublin over the past twelve months, Cork produced a positive Croke Park performance last August against Mayo. Donncha O’Connor kickstarted their second-half revival in that game when sprung from the bench and Patrick Kelly chipped in with a useful input as well.

Brian O’Driscoll and Ian Maguire – both still eligible for the U21 grade – started that game as well. Getting that quartet off the injured list will be an ambition before the summer along with hoping that Alan O’Connor settles back quickly. In plotting a championship recovery, Cork need as many playing options as possible.

Donncha OÕConnor celebrates scoring his side first goal Donncha O'Connor celebrates hitting the net for Cork against Mayo last August. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

5. Settling on a defensive strategy

Cork’s league strategy had reaped a dividend before Sunday. Mark Collins roamed to good effect while the O’Driscoll brothers supplemented a defensive approach. But on Sunday with Dublin pressing high up the pitch and instructing Philly McMahon to push up on Collins, Cork encountered trouble.

Do they abandon that strategy now after one disaster? Cork’s swift runners from deep found their approaches checked by the incessant pressure Dublin placed upon them. If they return to a more traditional formation, there is a fear that their inside defence could come under severe pressure. Figuring out what philosophy serves them best will be a challenge.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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