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GAA.ie columnist Rory Kavanagh.
GAA.ie columnist Rory Kavanagh.

Column: Rory Kavanagh on Football


By Rory Kavanagh

In 1847 when the Choctaw nation heard about the starving Irish they responded by contributing $170 (about $4,400 today) to send food aid to Ireland.

This show of solidarity came despite the great hardships being faced by the Choctaw people themselves. They were also living in starvation and poverty having been driven by white settlers from the southern states to the more barren Oklahoma in what became known as “The Trail of Tears”. Their trek was one of extreme hardship and pain.

Native American Choctaw and Irish cultures came together a couple of weeks ago for the official dedication of the Kindred Spirits sculpture in Midleton, Co. Cork, which commemorates a donation made by the Choctaw.

It was an extraordinary gesture. Something, that may encourage future generations to practice similar acts of kindness.

The Cork footballers will make the trip to Killarney on Sunday, exiled from their traditional home in Pairc Ui Chaoimh, as construction work is being completed. Come throw in time, all acts of kindness will cease and open war will commence between these two great rivals.

Forget about Kindred Spirits.  These are two tribes, who at their peak, preferred nothing more than taking a scalp.

Cork hardships.

It’s a very different Cork team now to the one that I faced in 2012. They’ve lost huge leaders in Graham Canty, Nicholas Murphy, and Pearse O’ Neill.

Paddy Kelly, Daniel Goulding, and Ciarán Sheehan are also gone. The reality for Cork is that they haven’t been able to replace these players. Any team would struggle with that.

Donnacha O Connor, Cork, surrounded by Donegal players Rory Kavanagh, Eamonn McGee, and Frank McGlynn in the 2012 All Ireland SFC Semi-Final.
Donnacha O Connor, Cork, surrounded by Donegal players Rory Kavanagh, Eamonn McGee, and Frank McGlynn in the 2012 All Ireland SFC Semi-Final.

Cork played a traditional game. Their goalkeeper Alan Quirke liked to go long to his midfield of Aidan Walsh and Alan O’Connor. It was there they looked to dominate the game. Their middle eight of half backs, midfield, and half forwards were as good as there was in the country at that time. Cork are a pale shadow of that now.

The displays against Waterford and Tipperary (first half) were bordering on diabolical at times. I can’t ever remember a Cork team arriving in a Munster Final with so little expected of them. Maybe that’s a good thing.

They have a lot of problems that need ironing out. It wasn’t until they got to grips at midfield that they finally started to run at Tipperary in the second half of their Semi Final win. Serious improvement is needed there if they are to compete against the likes of David Moran and Anthony Maher.

I can forsee a torrid afternoon for their full back line if James O Donoghue and Paul Geaney are getting a plentiful supply of ball inside. There is nothing expected of Cork and they’ve been getting grief from all quarters about their poor performances. So will we see the Rebel dog finally bite back?

One glimmer of hope can be taken from the tremendous character shown in the adversity of conceding a late goal against Tipp to go straight up the field to score one of their own through Luke Connolly.

With time almost up they worked the ball from one end of the field to the other with direct aggressive running to score a brilliant team goal.

Michael Shields gets his head up to play a pass out of defence to a Cork player in space on the wing. Then comes the injection of pace from Mark Collins, who plays a short hand pass inside, and Collins continues his run.

Then comes another injection of pace from deep. This time it’s James Loughrey, who scythes between two Tipperary men at the top of the D. It must be pointed out that Tipp are well set up at this stage. They have 12 men inside their 45m line! But they are hapless to stop the move such is the pace at which Loughrey and Collins are moving at.

Loughrey fists a perfect pass into the path of Collins. His run began on the opposition 60 metre line. He then squares it to Connolly who has the simple task of palming to the net. Superb team effort, but the injection of an all out sprint from Collins and Loughrey is what makes the goal.

Kerry midfielder David Moran.
Kerry midfielder David Moran.

So Cork take note. Let the shackles off on Sunday. Forget about trying to work it out with slow and deliberate build up play. That will get you nowhere. Defenders go into panic mode when they are faced with men travelling at top speed.

They have two options, foul or let you go. It’s a win-win situation. Cork should take inspiration from the Connolly goal.

The way they cut loose needs to be repeated. They ran with purpose and aggression. They committed bodies to the attack in those final moments of the game and got their reward.

Cork can lock onto that now. With the game almost up they played with desperation. Like it mattered to them. Maybe that’s the trick. For Cork to win they need to play with a degree of desperation. But can they play like desperate men for 70 minutes?

There is nothing like the green and gold jersey to awaken them from their slumber. I believe that Cork are a sleeping giant. They should be doing better than what they are showing. The manager will need to inspire his troops this week. To awaken a sense of pride that is surely in there somewhere.

This is a Munster Final. Against your arch enemy.

At least go out fired up and ready for a war. Commit to running at Kerry and tackling like your life depends on it. They might have a fighting chance if they can bring intensity to their game.

Bring the desperation that we saw in the final moments of the game versus Tipperary. That’s what Championship is all about. Look at what Down did to a highly fancied Monaghan team. They absolutely tore into them from start to finish. They paid them no respect whatsoever.

And they gave their supporters a night they will always remember. The Championship needs Cork to be competitive again, particularly the Munster Championship.

James Loughrey is an important player for Cork.
James Loughrey is an important player for Cork.

Cork were desperately unlucky not to win when the sides last met in the 2015 decider. I feel that was one that they left behind them. They ended up drawing the game and in the replay they were well beaten.

When we played Cork in the 2012 All Ireland Semi Final the first thing that struck me as I was running out onto the field was support we enjoyed that day in Croke Park compared to Cork.

It’s something that I couldn’t get my head around. They were the All Ireland winners two years previous, they were the Munster champions that year and chasing another All Ireland.

I know Cork is viewed as a hurling county, but still the team was packed with talent. It didn’t add up for me. Cork need a lift and they will need all of their supporters in good voice come Sunday.

I hear Eamon Fitzmaurice saying recently that it’s disappointing Pairc Ui Chaoimh isn’t ready. I’d say he won’t be too disappointed, though.  Kerry haven’t lost to Cork in Fitzgerald stadium in over 20 years and Kerry will smell Rebel blood as they chase five Munster crowns on the trot.

Kerry sense they have the foot firmly on Corks neck at the minute and they will be determined to keep it there. Fitzmaurice has moulded together a new Kerry team, who are odds on favourites for this one.

For Cork to have a chance they need to bring mayhem to Fitzgerald Stadium. If they don’t it will be like bringing bow and arrows to a gun show.

It will be interesting to see how driven this Kerry team is to land another Munster crown. Expect no aid from the Kingdom as the famine on Leeside continues.

A ‘Trail of Tears’ looms for the Cork supporters.

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