Counihan’s calls decisive as Rebels finally reach Promised Land

One of the questions that’s been bugging me all throughout this memorable championship season has been the one about Conor Counihan.  With all that talent at their disposal and their repeated inability to play to their potential, was it a case that the Cork bainisteoir simply couldn’t get the best from his players?  And, if this was the case, would this failing mean yet another All-Ireland final letdown for the Rebels?  Well, I got my answer today as, after an alarmingly flat opening 35 minutes from his side, Counihan shuffled his deck in the second half to decisive effect and it was these changes that ultimately propelled Cork to their seventh All-Ireland football title and their first, following four final defeats in four appearances, for twenty years.

Today’s 123rd football final won’t be recalled – unlike its hurling equivalent two weeks ago – as one of the better deciders in recent years but it sure was an absorbing contest and Down’s brave quest to maintain their amazing 100% strike rate in finals had much to do with this.  History had been on their side when, with a fair degree of joyous abandon, they showed defending champions Kerry the door in the quarters, and for a fair while today it looked as if it would be again.

Although Cork were on top in terms of possession from the off, they failed to register this dominance on the scoreboard and soon enough they found themselves four points in arrears and in bother.  Their use of possession was poor, their approach was flat and predictable and it was starting to look like their awful 2009 final performance all over again.  Down, in contrast, were a revelation and their economy in front of the posts was impressive, with Paul McComiskey and Danny Hughes bagging particularly eye-catching scores.

Cork did, however, manage to get to the break only three points in arrears so they could console themselves with the notion that, although they had played the 35 minutes as if they’d all taken Xanax with their hot chocolate last night, they were still in the hunt.  But they were also looking alarmingly like the Cork that had flopped so badly against Kerry in 2007 and again last year and it was obvious that a significant improvement would be required if they were to have any hope of escaping their own House of Pain.

And that’s where Counihan’s clever card-shuffling came in.  First to go was Alan O’Connor, with Nicholas Murphy coming in to provide more direction in the middle but the real game-changing move came when captain Graham Canty – who’d failed to line out although he’d been named in the starting fifteen – came on for the strangely ineffective Paudie Kissane.  The Clyda Rovers man has been one of Cork’s real star performers all year but while he never had the same impact today, it still seemed an enormous gamble to pitch a half-fit Canty into an All-Ireland final that was starting to come to the boil.

In the event, it turned out to be a masterstroke.  Where before the Rebels had been ponderous, now they were incisive and with Donncha O’Connor and Daniel Goulding running the show in the forwards, what had been a three-point deficit turned into a lead of the same proportions. For a time, it seemed like the Rebels might canter to victory but, to their credit, the Mourne lads weren’t prepared to let their 100% final record go without a battle.  Two late points from Coulter and Hughes meant that the first final draw in a decade was a strong possibility as the game went into stoppage time but Cork weren’t going to be denied now and they held out to claim the prize that’s been eluding them for so long.

I wouldn’t be Cork’s greatest fan or anything but I think their win today was a fitting enough outcome to what has been one of the best championships in a long while.  You’d need to be fairly hard-hearted to say that long-serving warriors such as Nicholas Murphy, Derek Kavanagh or the talismanic Graham Canty don’t deserve All-Ireland medals and we of all people can appreciate seeing a county that has repeatedly failed to do the business on All-Ireland final day finally landing the big prize.  And, as someone said to me last weekend, a win by Down would almost have been too easy, even in a season where the unexpected happened with quite thrilling regularity. Down are a talented side and I’d expect them to have other big days at Croker in the near future but today undoubtedly was Cork’s day and they have every right tonight to savour their hard-fought win.  After all, if their past record is of any relevance, it could be a good while before they find themselves in this position again.

17 thoughts on “Counihan’s calls decisive as Rebels finally reach Promised Land

  1. Speaking as a neutral this is the worst side to have won the All-Ireland over the past decade. Granted that is a good criticism to be making, and one manys the county would love to have thrown at them but I don’t think we’ll be seeing them atop the Hogan steps next year. They have provided very few of the memories of the year. Again let me stress I’ve no axe to grind with Cork, just speaking as a neutral concentrating on the football that was played this year.

  2. have to agree with that innocentbystander, Cork didn’t leave many lasting impressions on their way to the title. No spectacular performances, no outstanding games, no consistency. But is that a reflection on them or on the rest of the opposition? And in the end does it matter as the history books will only show that they are champions?
    The second 35 minutes of yesterdays game was probably their best period of action in the championship. But they didn’t score from play for the first 30 minutes of the game and 9 of their 16 points tally came from frees and 45’s and that in a way is kind of why it’s hard to get over excited about yesterdays win. Yes, as you say WJ, it was a tense tussle because it was tight on the scoreboard as the game entered the final stages yesterday but it wasn’t one of the classic All Ireland finals.

  3. Well it would be lovely to win a “classic” All Ireland but I will take it any which way if only it would come along and see Sam hoisted by a Mayo captain. Maybe cork are better off not having too many “stars” and work better as a team as a result? True they had some dire spells in the game and a piece of lunacy at 62 mins that resulted in a Down score, but they clung on and have the Cup for the next year, the feckers!!

  4. Just like the Dublin team of 1995, Cork stumbled over the line. Poor football that reflected a poor year all round. No more than beating Mayo in 1989 according to Cork themselves, it was only when they beat Meath a year later did they consoder themselves worthy All-Ireland winners. A shadow called Kerry lurks. It would be some battle next year if both made the final.
    Just looking at the Cork team of the last three/four years. They have a solid core of players unlike many other counties, principly Mayo who chop and change but dont possess enough of the right players at the moment.

  5. That’s a pretty decent Cork Football team. I don’t think they are getting enough credit. Some of their best players are still very young. I think they will only get better with an All-Ireland under their belt and paly a more direct style of football.
    We are along way off that at the moment as painfully demonstrated in the league final. Interesting though if you look at Cork’s lineup in the u-21 decider against us in 2006 (see below). 9 of the team played yesterday. Our boys have been able for the step up in class to senior football unfortunatley.

    CORK: K O’Halloran; R Carey, C Murphy, S O’Donoghue; D Limerick, M Shields, E Cadogan; A O’Connor, P Kelly; F Gould, C Keane, P Kerrigan (capt); D Goulding, P O’Flynn, J Hayes.

    MAYO: K O’Malley; T Howley, G Cafferkey, K Higgins (capt); C Barrett, T Cunniffe, C Boyle; S O’Shea, B Moran; A Campbell, J Dillon, A Kilcoyne; M Ronaldson, M Hannick, M Conroy.

  6. Cork have now played in 25 finals and won seven. They have lost two of the last three finals. And yet they are not made objects of pity like Mayo are. In fact, their previous appearances were regarded as a positive advantage. Our ratio of wins to appearances is better than Cork’s so why are we regarded as the perrenial chokers? I think our own Wirrasthru attitude adds to the general view.

  7. They’ve a bad strike rate in finals for sure, Grainne, and you’re right that the media haven’t given them the same kind of patronising ‘Lord love them’ treatment that we seem to get all the time. Yet had they lost yesterday, they would have equalled our unenviable record of five final losses from five appearances since their last win in 1990. But, then again, they didn’t lose yesterday …

  8. RTE must be very hard up for someone to interview when they had Jonno on last nights news pontificating on how to win an AI. Of course the election may be nearer than we think.

  9. One thing that was good about yesterdays match and indeed Downs game against Kildare,was the honesty of both games.By that i mean they kept playing football right to the end.There was no players faking injuries no cynical fowls no stalling tactics it was honest football warts and all right to the end.If that was Kerry or Tyrone that were 3 points up in the last 5 minutes there would have been very little football played after that.
    So hats off to both teams it was a breath of fresh air even though you couldn`t call it a classic.

  10. innocentbystander I couldn’t disagree with you more. It’s very odd to me that everyone wants to have a go at this Cork team for not being that good for some reason.
    The only team to have beaten Cork in the championship since 2004 is Kerry. A Kerry team widely regarded as one of their best ever and that’s saying something. They’re a pretty young team as well so to say we won’t see them back again next year or in the future can’t be based on much.
    The notion that the final was poor and it was overall a poor championship is rubbish to me aswell. I can’t remember a brilliant all-ireland final in the last decade. Kerry and Armagh was decent to my memory. The Kerry v Tyrone finals were gripping but I wouldn’t have called the football scintillating, it was more of a battle. The less said about our involvement in finals the better.

  11. Barney surely their continuing failure to get the Kerry monkey off their back is the sign of an incomplete team? Kerry & Tyrone have shown they were streets ahead of others -with Kerrys lack of wins over Tyrone compensated for by their consistency. Corks only consistency has been their failures to Kerry. As for quality in finals-You can’t wish any more for a game than it to be well contested- and Kerry Tyrone finals were great in that respect.

  12. Innocentbystander I think corks failure to get the Kerry monkey of their back is no different to kerry’s failings against Tyrone. The only difference being Kerry have only played Tyrone twice in the last six years whereas cork have played Kerry twice a year at least over the same period apart from this year. I think that more than proves their consistency.

    My point with regard to the finals was that none of them were outstanding in the last decade in terms of the football played. I thought your original criticism of cork was there was no outstanding football played, the same could be said of most years!

  13. Just a quick look at Corks record since they beat us in the 1989 All-Ireland final. They have won 3 Senior’s, 4 U21s, 3 Minors, 3 League titles plus 8 Junior finals. Looking at the Junior titles I found that a load of the current senior team won at this level . They are not afraid to pick junior and intermediate players for their senior championship team.
    People go on about their record v Kerry. Everbody suffers in comparison to Kerry. Cork do ok plus they also lose players to the hurling.
    I for one wouldnt mind their strike rate of wins. To pass the time, lay our rate over theirs and see the difference.

  14. That’s a good point, ontheroad. I’ve just checked the records: while Cork’s 2009 winning team at junior level didn’t contribute any players to this year’s senior team, the 2007 team included Paudie Kissane and Alan O’Connor while the 2005 one included Alan Quirke, Ger Spillane, Alan O’Connor (again), Daniel Goulding and Donncha O’Connor. The point was made to me recently that whereas we’ve had a large spread of clubs (including a fair few junior ones) represented at minor level in recent years, those lads who don’t play for senior clubs are more often than not the ones who aren’t breaking through into senior at inter-county level. It’s also the case that we’re putting little or no effort into developing the county junior team as a force in its own right. This could be one for Liam Horan’s agenda (as well as for the new manager) and it looks like an area where a good solution could be put in place without breaking the bank either.

  15. That is an interesting point alright- reading programmes you see minor teams are often made of of lads from 14/15 different clubs and yet the senior team could be drawn from 7 or 8… Sean Boylan had no problem picking a jnr player; and Derek Savage as far as I know never kicked a ball at senior level for club. He was clearly good enough for it though…

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