Cork are not yet All-Ireland Championship contenders, says Peter Canavan

I tipped Kerry from the start of the year, but they were upset by an impressive Cork display on Sunday.

But I think we need to see more of the Rebels against the top teams before we can talk about them as All-Ireland contenders.

Yes, they overcame a fancied Kingdom side, but they cannot get ahead of themselves. The Lee-siders have a difficult assignment coming up against Tipperary in the Munster final.

Cavan defeated one of the favourites in Ulster two weeks ago. That buoyed them, and they went out fully expecting to steamroll Antrim. And they struggled to do that. The Saffrons weren’t too far away.

Cork have to be mindful of the fact that the Premier have some clinical forwards. If Cork take them for granted, they could pay the price.

Everybody is now looking at Cork in a completely different way, but the provincial decider will be a difficult assignment. It’s not straightforward.

But on the standards Cork set for themselves, they should now be coming out of Munster.

The quality of Sunday’s game was criticised by a lot of commentators. But I didn’t see it that way; it was a competitive war of attrition.

Both teams went long with the kick-outs, so there was some great catching around the middle of the park. The game-plan that Ronan McCarthy implemented worked to a tee.

Granted, they got some breaks. But in any game where an underdog is taking on a hot-favourite, they have to hope that the favourites have an off-day in front of goal. And they have to be ruthless in front of goal. That’s exactly the way it panned out.

David Clifford and Seán O’Shea will never kick wides like that again. Whereas Cork were kicking really difficult opportunities. Kerry had a 43 per cent conversion rate, whereas Cork hit 61 per cent.

On another day, Clifford’s goal chance hits the net, they are more accurate in their shooting and it’s a six-point winning margin after 70 minutes.

Kerry will be disappointed that they were not more clinical. But you have to give the Rebels credit for their discipline and intensity they brought to their tackling.

The game-plan was to keep it tight. Then in the second half, they sprung Luke Connolly, Mark Keane and Paul Kerrigan from the bench.

From Ronan McCarthy’s point of view, the game couldn’t have gone any better, and you have to applaud them for how they went about their business.

The 2019 All-Ireland finalists did well on the restarts. The stats would show they had ample possession. It was their inability to convert their chances let them down.

Peter Keane has come in for a bit of stick regarding the defensive approach that they took to the game. But they played very similar against Donegal and Monaghan in the last two rounds of the National League.

The difference on Sunday was their half-backs were unable to penetrate the Cork defence. Gavin White and Paul Murphy didn’t have the same impact going forward as they did against Ulster opposition in recent weeks.

Does it impact the Kingdom’s long-term project?

I don’t think it’s a fatal blow to this Kerry team’s ambitions over the coming years.

But they have a few issues they need to address.

Jim McGuinness said on Saturday that the full-back position has been a problem in Kerry for a considerable amount of time. And it’s as if he knew what was going to happen in the closing stages of the game.

And one final takeaway from the Páirc Uí Chaoimh upset. Mark Keane’s late strike shows the quick impact Australian Rules players can have upon their return to Gaelic football. Coupled with the showings of Conor McKenna and Conor Glass in recent weeks, there’s evidence to suggest that if you are talented and athletic, there will be a place for you.

Watch Inside The Game, our weekly GAA discussion show, every Wednesday evening on Sky Sports Mix. You can catch up on previous episodes on the Sky Sports YouTube channel.

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