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Darragh Ó Sé: It’s no use Cork having the ball if they don’t trust themselves when the heat comes on

John Cleary’s side played some lovely stuff against Kerry in the first 20 minutes last Saturday but they spent the rest of it trying to hang on to what they had

In these early rounds of the championship, we’re all cheap dates. You don’t have to do much to impress us. Even if none of the football over the weekend changes very much in terms of the overall scheme of things, there has still been a fair amount of entertainment. Once you stop judging everything by the bigger picture, there’s plenty to enjoy in these games.

Take Cork. Will they win the All-Ireland? They won’t. Will they win a game in Croke Park in June? The jury is so far out on that one that they’ve all told their employers not to expect them back anytime soon. But still and all, for 20 minutes in Killarney on Saturday, they were physical, they were slick and they were accurate.

Sometimes when an unfancied team gets a good start, there’s a fair bit of bluster involved. We’ve all seen games like that – the underdogs come out and they throw their weight around and wire into the opposition like it’s the last game of football they’ll ever play. But that stuff only goes so far. An angry bull will only go for so long before he gets out of breath.

The thing about Cork on Saturday was that their good start wasn’t all that fire and brimstone stuff. It was just good football. Paul Walsh’s goal was a great example – quick handpassing, clever running to drag defenders out of position, all finishing with Walsh sprinting from deep and losing his man to score the goal. All the teams that are going to play Kerry later in the year will look at that goal and stick it in their pocket.


Cork were four points up after 20 minutes and they were full value for it. If they were leading because of a flukey goal or a couple of refereeing decisions, it would be a different story. Or if it was all down to a big row that had got the blood up in everyone, it wouldn’t be half as impressive. But this was down to carrying out their game plan and showing off their skills. That tells me they’re going in the right direction.

What I couldn’t understand after that was why they stopped doing it. They were four points up and it felt to me like they wanted to see it out to half-time. They seemed to move Seán Powter much deeper for the rest of the half, as if they were thinking, “What we have, we hold.” It was like they took the sail down and wanted to just drift along for a while.

When they go back over the video, I think they’ll pick that out as their fatal move. Once you do that, you’re basically admitting defeat. You tell yourself that you’re managing the game and taking the sting out of it but really what you’re doing is showing the opposition that you don’t fully believe that you can keep your quality up for the whole afternoon. They scored just a single point between then and half-time and only went in one ahead.

I don’t know if they really were able to convince themselves that they had a chance of winning. They were doing plenty right. Daniel O’Mahony was keeping tabs on David Clifford, not one bit overawed by his job for the day. He was tough and physical and didn’t take a backward step – his uncle Aidan would have seen plenty of the family gene in him.

You won’t always beat Kerry when Clifford has a poor day but it only stands to reason that you have a better chance of it than when he shoots the lights out. That’s what made Cork’s decision to drop deep so hard to fathom. You’re winning, your midfield is on top, Clifford is being shackled – if you’re not going to go for it then, when will you?

For Kerry, coming through a game where their main man is being held is a good habit to get into. You could see him willing himself into the game, waiting on the periphery, taking O’Mahony for a walk out to the sideline before trying to burst on to possession so that he’d either have a shot or be fouled. It’s a mark of the man that he played poorly and still got three points from play.

But the real upside to the day for Kerry is that they were able to win comfortably enough without needing him to score seven points. Players like Dara Moynihan are much maligned but you can see him growing in confidence. In his first few seasons with Kerry, he was the kind of player who tried to do his job to the letter but would nearly be reluctant to take a shot, as if he’d get given out to if he deprived one of the Cliffords or Seanie O’Shea of a chance to score.

He’s expressing himself a bit more now, which is something Kerry need. He kicked a couple of points, Paul Geaney came on and got one, Cillian Burke got one. Clifford is still going to be the main threat but the more players Kerry can have filling in around him and taking up the slack, the better. Last year’s All-Ireland final taught us that lesson the hard way.

I don’t think the season is dead for Cork. Go back to last year and their best performances were in the All-Ireland series. They ran Kerry to two points before beating Mayo and Roscommon and getting into an All-Ireland quarter-final. When the group stage comes around in a few weeks, who will want to play them?

Dublin are well ahead of the posse, fair enough. Kerry are getting themselves into gear but have plenty of flaws to fix before then. Derry’s share price had taken a plunge after the weekend. Mayo and Galway are in the mix, so are Donegal now. I’d have Cork in or around the same level as Armagh, there or thereabouts for a place in the last eight.

They have the football for it. But that’s not much use if they don’t trust themselves to keep playing it when the heat comes on.