Colm O’Driscoll finds his rhythm in Rebel band of brothers

Cork half-forward has flourished alongside siblings in Brian Cuthbert’s set-up

Roving half-forward Colm O’Driscoll has been a key player in Brian Cuthbert’s new-look Cork team. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Roving half-forward Colm O’Driscoll has been a key player in Brian Cuthbert’s new-look Cork team. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

Jim Gavin may have doubled back from calling Sunday’s opposition “the most defensive Cork team he had ever seen” but no one is being fooled into thinking this Allianz Football League final will be won on attacking flair alone.

When the teams last met, on an icy beginning to February, Dublin were held to 0-16 as Cork out-scored them by five points to one in the closing minutes, finishing with 1-15. Since then, however, Dublin have actually proved far more defensive-orientated, averaging 1-14 in their eight games, while conceding an average of only 0-13 (Cork, as it turned out, were one of only two teams to put a goal past Dublin, with Monaghan being the other).

Defensive record

So, while Gavin came out this week reappraising Cork as “being in a league of their own this year”, Cork’s immediate challenge may well be to become the most defensive Cork team he has ever seen. And not far from the memory of either team is last year’s league semi-final meeting, when Cork’s defence completely fell apart, allowing Dublin to recover from a 10-point deficit to win by seven.

If, however, part of any defensive strategy is having an innate understanding of the player next to you, then Cork may have a possible advantage. Because Colm O’Driscoll, who typically plays as a sweeper or else mans the space between the half-forward and half-back lines, has for most of this season being playing alongside one or both of his brothers.

Sixth sense

Brian Cuthbert

“I’ve been playing with him [Kevin] since he was seven or eight years old, so that’s the bones of 16, 17 years now,” says Colm O’Driscoll. “If you don’t know a fella after that much time, I don’t think you’ll ever know him. It’s nice to look across and see a familiar face on the other side, your own flesh and blood, playing 30 yards away from you.

“But all intercounty players are intelligent fellas. They know when they need to defend and when they need to attack. I think that’s down to communication around the field. and fellas seeing each other a few times every week. The more you get to know a fella, the more you understand how he plays.”

Dynamic players

Conor Counihan

“I didn’t get a lot of a look in back then, to be honest,” he says. “It was a different management. They had a lot of very, very good players at their disposal. It was a very tough team to break into, to be fair. I don’t think many fellas broke into it. I think Aidan Walsh and Ciarán Sheehan, who were exceptional athletes, were the only two to break into it. There were a lot of big men on the team at that time and when you’re standing at 5’8, you wouldn’t be classed as a big man.”

It may or may not have helped that O’Driscoll, who plays his club football with junior side Tadhg MacCárthaigh, once played hurling alongside Cuthbert with the Bishopstown club (back in 2006); what is certain, however, is that his style of football fits neatly into what Cuthbert is looking for.

Nature of the opposition

That, says O’Driscoll was partly down to the nature of the opposition. “When you have the ball, you’re not going to be giving it away, certainly not to top sides.

“I think that was an unfair reflection, to be honest. In the last five or six minutes, we just tried to keep the ball as best we could, so that definitely bumped up the hand-passes. You try and work scores as best you can, especially against a blanket defence like Donegal.”

Cork may have another possible advantage in that they have never actually lost a league final to Dublin, winning the previous four finals, in 1952, 1989, 1999, and 2011.

“You sit down, and you look at the opposition, and the management decides what way you play,” says O’Driscoll. “And you just implement that.”

Defence, perhaps, being the best form of attack?

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