Cork footballers must cope with pressure of being favourites for promotion

Cork footballers must cope with pressure of being favourites for promotion
Cathail O'Mahony of Cork in action against Owen Fitzgerald, left and Dan McCarthy of Kerry recently. He gets his first league start this weekend. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

IT was golfer Lee Trevino who coined the phrases ‘a hungry dog hunts best’ and ‘the more I practice the luckier I get.’

Cork football coach, Ronan McCarthy, could easily have singled out the colourful American, one of the most charismatic of all time, as a prime example of what he demands from his players.

Tomorrow, the Rebels are 1/6 with the bookies to begin Division 3 with a victory over Offaly at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, throw-in 6pm.

And Cork are 8/15 to win promotion back to Division 2 following last season’s morale-draining relegation.

That Derry are next in the betting at sixes shows what the money men think of Cork’s prospects as they set out on the seven-game schedule with three more home games to follow.

“You’ve got to earn the right to play our football,” McCarthy said during the week.

“We have real quality throughout the team, but that’s not enough. You’ve got to go out and win the battle first.”

It’s a truism that applies to all contact team sports, not just football, and demands players dictate the pace, control the patters, dominate possession and win the 50-50 collisions.

That’s one critical aspect of tomorrow’s opener. Another is dealing with expectation levels, as reflected in the betting odds.

“There’s a thinking there that because it’s Cork, the size of the county and that we’ve not been here before, that we have some sort of right to come straight back up.

“All you have to do is look at Derry and Down who didn’t do that. You’ve got to earn your wins in what are all difficult games.

“The Limerick game showed that if you’re not right and not performing at the highest level then you are vulnerable.

“That will be the case and we have to take it one game at a time, making sure we’re at the top of our game.”

And a major third is the big target on the backs of the Cork jerseys, particularly after contesting the elite Super 8s last summer.

“We’d be viewed as a scalp, to use that expression. The players have to be good enough to deal with that and match the intensity and commitment teams bring,” McCarthy commented.

Again it’s what Trevino said about the hungry hound. Cork have got to want it more than the opposition. That’s the starting point.

The Cork boss, who is setting out on the final leg of his three-year regime, believes the players are becoming more consistent in their performances.

Inconsistency is a trait that has bedevilled Cork football teams over the generations, but McCarthy reckons it’s quickly becoming a thing of the past.

“Since we lost to Meath last February/early March, we’ve played about 20 games between Division 2, challenges, Super 8s and pre-season.

“And to be fair to the players, in those 20 games, we’ve been highly consistent in all of them. It was probably a thing in my early stint in charge that you didn’t know what you were going to get on any given day.

“An example of that was losing to Cavan in year one, when we were really poor, passive and lacking energy and then seven days later it was like a different side away to Meath.

“We were probably a bit inconsistent. If you recall we played Tipperary in a game people thought we might be vulnerable and won by 10 points, playing really well. Then, the next day we suffered a heavy defeat to Kerry.

“I believe it’s something we’ve grown out of and I think there’s more stability in the set-up.

“This is my third year. We’ve had no turn-over of players this season and all our senior citizens have stayed on. We’re delighted to have them.

“We obviously had the injection of players from the U20s and we’ve Ciarán Sheehan, Sean Powter and Kevin Crowley back.

“My sense of the team that it is stable, consistent and the message is that whether it’s division 3 or division 1, you must go out and perform every time.

“A team like Mayo, who’ve been on the road a long time, can win without playing that well, but, for us, we have to be on the money all the time.

“There is no mystery to that. Corofin weren’t quite at it on the day against Kilcoo and were vulnerable. That’s the reality every time you go out to play.”

Corofin's Micheál Lundy has a shot on goal saved by Micheál Aodh Martin of Nemo Rangers, who is the keeper against Offaly. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Corofin's Micheál Lundy has a shot on goal saved by Micheál Aodh Martin of Nemo Rangers, who is the keeper against Offaly. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

Cork watched Offaly lose to Longford in the final of the O’Byrne Cup last weekend, their first defeat in five games in Leinster’s pre-season competition.

“They are playing well with nice forwards and are a big scoring threat inside in the full-forward line,” was Cork’s observation of the John Maughan-coached opposition.

McCarthy made some interesting points when quizzed about the number and scale of hamstring injuries sustained by the footballers in recent times.

Brian Hurley is the latest victim to follow on Nathan Walsh though Sean Powter is named in the team.

“Obviously, we have regular medical team meetings and we discuss all types of injuries. We’ve had a lot of what I would call niggles. We’ve had no major hamstring injury.

“The problem is now the minute you pick up even a grade 1 injury, it’s a minimum two weeks, sometimes longer. Brian could, potentially, miss the first three games,” he concluded.

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