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Problems with goal scoring have hurt Cork all year, it'll be key to their hopes against Mayo

The Rebels season is on the line tomorrow at the Gaelic Grounds.

Cork head to the Gaelic Grounds to face Mayo tomorrow.
Cork head to the Gaelic Grounds to face Mayo tomorrow.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

PEADAR HEALY WORE the look of a man that had given the topic plenty thought over the last few months.

He had no hesitation in Killarney earlier this month in accepting his Cork team had collided with a superior Kerry force.

Yet when it was suggested afterwards that Cork could have remained in the hunt for honours longer if they had converted the goal opportunities that fell their way, Healy sighed in agreement.

“We have missed 19 goal chances in the league this year. When you play Kerry if you don’t take your goal chances you’re in trouble.

“Don’t get me wrong, they got them as well. You’ve got to take your goal chances against Kerry, especially as we’re not a high scoring team. We’re looking to get 16 scores plus, two or three of them have to be goals.”

It’s been a problem for Cork throughout 2017. Tomorrow they head to the Gaelic Grounds, outsiders against Mayo with the backdoor safety net no longer in existence. In order to deliver an upset, they will need to sort their goalscoring woes.

That Munster final provided a stark contrast in the clinical nature of the attacks on show. Kerry posted 1-23, didn’t register their first wide until the 42nd minute of the game and had the two most dominant performers on show in James O’Donoghue and Paul Geaney.

Cork lacked such a cutting edge up front. They created four good goal chances in that game, falling to Ian Maguire, Tomas Clancy, Paul Kerrigan and Luke Connolly. Points ended up coming from the latter two openings but the absence of any green flags being raised was always going to hinder Cork’s chances of springing a surprise.

Peadar Healy Cork manager Peadar Healy in Fitzgerald Stadium. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Two years ago when they came desperately close to ending their long drought in Fitzgerald Stadium, goals were the foundation of Cork’s challenge in pushing Kerry to the wire. Colm O’Neill palmed a ball to the net early on to settle them, Donncha O’Connor flicked home another goal after the interval to propel them forward and Barry O’Driscoll drilled home a shot that nearly sealed victory in the finale.

But in 2017, Cork have been frequently compromised by an inability to convert goalscoring chances. They fell short of promotion in the league, finishing fourth in Division 2 and only netting four times in their seven games. The three teams above them Galway (12), Kildare (11) and Meath (11) were all significantly more prolific when it came to firing home goals.

The Meath game summed up a frustrating spring campaign. They saw a nine-point lead slip from their grasp at home in a game they ended up drawing. Cork dominated the first-half and were full value for a 0-12 to 0-5 half-time lead but two missed goal chances from Peter Kelleher and Colm O’Neill would prove costly.

Cork hit plenty turbulence in their Munster championship journey. Prising apart defences has not been a problem, finishing off those incisive moves has. In their three games, Cork created 10 decent chances for goals but only netted twice in their provincial ties.

The nuts and bolts of May’s quarter-final in Dungarvan suggested a team in struggle, given Cork scraped over the line by a point against a Division 4 outfit.

Yet a crucial period in that game came after the interval with three goal opportunities. Two fell to Cork with Colm O’Neill’s piledriver blocked by Stephen Enright and Kerrigan’s shot rolling wide after a mazy run. Waterford capitalised to score in between those Cork misses with Gavin Crotty shooting home after goalkeeper Ken O’Halloran spilled a delivery from a free.

Cork got over the line in the end with a point to spare in Dungarvan. When back at home for their semi-final against Tipperary, they needed a late intervention when Connolly tipped the ball to the net after a flowing team move.

But similarly that game saw a couple of early goal chances arrive for Cork. O’Neill’s shot was blocked on the line by the covering Tipperary defence and Kerrigan saw another shot slip past the post.

Consider the consensus that Cork are a team bereft of confidence after a series of damaging results which have eroded their belief. If one or two of those goalscoring chances early in the second half against Waterford and early in the first half against Tipperary had resulted in a goal, it’s easy to imagine the injection of confidence it would have given the team.

Cork are a side that need something to help them gain a foothold early in a match. That will be a clear requirement in the Gaelic Grounds tomorrow. The last two senior championship meetings between the counties in 2011 and 2014 have swung in Mayo’s direction with Cork bagging two goals during each defeat.

Amidst their difficulties this summer, Cork have shown glimpses of their capabilities at sourcing possession at midfield, getting their best runners at full speed blasting holes in defence and presenting opportunities close to goal.

The trick now is to start converting those chances.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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