Cork can be dominant force, says Morgan

 

GAA: HAVING REACHED a third All-Ireland final in four years, Cork can move on to become the major force in football.

Although the county is still one match away from a first All-Ireland since 1990, former captain and manager Billy Morgan believes the narrow win over Dublin was a tipping point.

“If they’d lost on Sunday I think it would have been the end of the road for the team. Now if they can win the final the shackles will be off and they can dominate football for a few years. This could be the springboard.”

Having coached the county to its only back-to-back achievement in 1989-90, Morgan feels the relationship with Kerry has created problems for Cork, unrelated to the traditional difficulty associated with beating them and that inconsistency has bedevilled the county.

“I think it’s always been difficult for Cork football teams. I don’t know why but even back in my own playing days I remember the effect of beating Kerry was to make the next game a bit of an anti-climax.

“In 1971 we hammered Kerry, who were All-Ireland champions and then we played Offaly. They were a good team, but we just didn’t play on the day.

“Go back in Cork history to the 1950s. We were beaten by a very good Galway team in 1956, came back a year later and beat them in the All-Ireland semi-final but went and lost the final to Louth.

“In 1987 we beat Kerry and almost got caught the first day against Galway and it took a last-minute point by Larry (Tompkins) to equalise.”

As pointed out at the weekend, the current side, managed by Conor Counihan, who was one of Morgan’s players in 1989-90, is making parallel progress with the team of 21 years ago, which also defeated Dublin in the semi-final before going on to face an unexpected opponent in the final.

“I’d say it’s very similar. Sunday was so difficult because playing Dublin in a semi-final in Croke Park is never going to be easy especially when the expectation has become that Cork should be winning an All-Ireland handy at this stage.

“In ’89 we hadn’t won for 16 years; now it’s 20 years since the last. Expectations bring pressure.

“When we got over Dublin in ’89 we were confidently expected to beat Mayo or Tyrone. We ended up struggling in the final. The challenge is to put favouritism behind you. Favourites and underdogs are just imposters. You focus on your own game.”

Not everything about the respective eras is the same. Morgan’s 1980s team was steadily improving throughout the years when they lost All-Ireland finals to Meath whereas the current side have struggled for form this season despite playing some breathtaking football last season, which ended in disappointment in the final, yet again against Kerry.

There was a confidence and belief in Cork in 1989, which hasn’t always been visible in 2010. Morgan says the teams had different personalities.

“One thing about 1987-91 is that they were a very mature team – I mean in attitude and outlook, not age – whereas this team hasn’t as many leadership types but they have suffered a few hard knocks and maybe have become battle hardened.

“Our 1988 defeat by Meath when they were down to 14 was a setback but the team were steeled by it and ambitious.

“We were coming home in the car from the match (on Sunday) and talking about how the team hasn’t been beaten by anyone except Kerry since 2004. That’s a fair record and hopefully it’s a positive factor because it has to give confidence to the players.”

Morgan’s point about confidence is hard to dispute. The corollary of having been put out of the past five championships by Kerry is that Cork haven’t lost to any other county since Fermanagh six years ago.

In an interview with this newspaper on Saturday, Enda McNulty the former Armagh player and performance consultant, praised Cork and prophetically talked about what he termed “the winning IQ”, which equipped teams not playing particularly well with a sense of when a match is there to be won.

It’s hard to think of any starker examples of this than Cork on Sunday leading for just three minutes of the match – the crucial three.

“They probably haven’t got much credit for that because they haven’t been playing well,” says Morgan. “Limerick took them to extra-time and had momentum but Cork raised their game enough to get through. Even against Roscommon in the quarter-final they had to up their game and obviously again on Sunday.

“Playing well or not they have been able to eke out a win. You see it in other sports, with Man United, not playing well but managing to get a goal before the end. Winning is a habit. Sunday was all about winning rather than performance.”