Cork are far ahead of Kerry at this present time

March 10th, 2015
by Weeshie Fogarty

The biggest mystery for me following that rout by Cork in last Sunday's national league game was what the hell happened to the outstanding form the players had displayed both against Derry and Dublin? Two superb victories with the younger players in particular showing continuous improvement and maturity in their play. And everything changed and changed completely last Sunday. This was a shocking display from the All Ireland champions and no matter way you dress it up you can't escape the truth, it was that bad.  Were Cork THAT good? Only time will now tell. Kerry will definitely improve, but how good is this Cork team?

In his post match interviews even Eamon Fitzmaurice, always self assured and diplomatic was visibly shaken and without an explanation for his teams pathetic performance.  Yes as everyone has been saying the same thing happened last year when the counties met in that infamous league match in Tralee where Kerry was also beaten out the proverbial gate and yes,  no need to elaborate what occurred as the championship unfolded.  However things may not be as easily rectified and history repeated this coming year because in my opinion things are now different from a Cork perspective.

Last year in one of these columns I mentioned the Cork manager Brian Cuthbert was in his first year as boss of the Rebels and he was still in a learning mode. He is now much wiser in word and deed and he was so quick to point out following last Sundays win that Kerry are a different animal in the summer. He was thought a salutary lesson last year in the Munster final and their facile early league win last year over Kerry had I firmly believe lulled them in to a false sense of security, and they paid a heavy price for that in the provincial final.  Kerry may be a different animal in the summer but the Cork boss is also a different animal this year.

The disparity between the two sides last Sunday was like chalk and cheese. Kerry were leaden footed, flat, slow and spend the whole afternoon chasing Cork shadows especially in defence where massive gaps had appeared as early as the first five minutes.  On the other hand the home sides were literally jumping out of their skins from the word go. Fresh, fleet of foot with men running to support each other from defence out as they carved open the Kerry rear guard time and again.

In fact the approach work for both of John o Rourke early goals were a perfect example of this. Jamie o Sullivan who had a superb game made a brilliant run to set up the first and then Brian Hurley did like wise for the second. The Kerry defenders will have nightmares and should question their absence from marking duties.  Indeed except for a great Brendan Kealy save with his feet and a last ditch goal line clearance by Mark Griffin we would have conceded two more majors.

But the bottom line for me last Sunday is, and this can't be denied, Cork are far ahead of Kerry at this present time in relation to fitness, conditioning and freshness. Winning two All Irelands in a row poses massive problems. When Kerry were celebrating their magnificent All Ireland win and jetting g to far away places with strange sounding n names and hauling the cup around to various functions and events Pat Flanagan was laying the foundations for a Cork assault on the All Ireland. Yes the very same Pat Flanagan who trained Kerry to win two national leagues and two Sam Maguire's.  Of course it's very early days yet and no one is going to get too excited or despondent over last weeks drubbing but the Kerry management will have learned a huge amount from the defeat.

While the difference in freshness and fitness was as clear as driven snow so was the method of play adopted by both sides. From the outset Cork moved the ball with great speed and directness and it was as plain as day that Colm o Neill and Brian Hurley who remained close to Brian Kealy's goal were the big target men and what a beautiful supply of ball they were given. Time and again beautiful dinky chest high passes landed in front of them, two lovely players and their power, balance and ball skills caused endless troubles.  I counted just one high ball delivered into the Kerry square. And then there was the Donncha o Connor substitution, four kicks at goal, four points. Not bad for a sub.

On the other hand the Kingdom attacking moves were limited to a continuous string of long high centers to Kieran Donaghy, and later Tommy Walsh and David Moran. While it did reap good results when Star was inside when later he was moved outfield the high ball strategy was a failure.  Tommy needs lots of game time to get up to the speed of the game following his sojourn in Australia but it was his club mate Barry John Keane who impressed most of all. Three lovely points from play he was only one of a few who looked a match for the Cork men. Anthony Maher in particular, Kieran Donaghy and at time Mark Griffin were others who battled so hard to stem the tide.

So next Sunday we will have a completely different spectacle, Donegal are in town with their ultra defense set up. Whatever about the defeat last Sunday it was a joy to watch end to end play, open football and six attackers taking on six defenders, man to man. Little or no swarming, we'll see the direct opposite in Tralee and I for one am not looking forward to this. However the pressure is back on Kerry to improve and perform before their own people, a lot of players have a lot of improving to do.

 And what will the summer hold, what will Eamon Fitzmaurice and Brian Cuthbert face in relation to 14 men behind the ball? A different game, a different plan needed players who can adapt both in mind and body. Kerry have done it but this might prove to be Corks greatest obstacle. I had a quick chat with one of the Cork back room team on my way out of the ground. He was under no illusion as to what this league meant, very little, but he then added very tellingly, "Is there any reason why these two teams can not have a very successful year"?  No reason what so ever in my book. 

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