League looms large in new era

League looms large in new era
Peter O'Driscoll of Cork is tackled by Steven O'Brien of Tipperary during the 2020 McGrath Cup Group B match between Cork and Tipperary at Mallow GAA Grounds in Mallow, Co Cork. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

CORK'S opening division three game in the national football league is coming closer into view.

Ahead of the McGrath Cup final against Limerick at the LIT Gaelic Grounds tomorrow at 5.30pm, Cork have one eye on the visit of Offaly to Páirc Uí Chaoimh tomorrow fortnight.

For those of you emerging from the winter slumber, believing the unseasonally mild weather has announced spring's arrival, allow me bring you up to speed about the 2020 All-Ireland football championship.

It takes on a different complexion because the race for Sam will only be confined to counties from divisions 1 and 2 or those from the lower divisions reaching a provincial final.

As Cork are in division 3 for the first time, you can understand the importance of returning to division 2 asap.

Part of the reasoning is that the Munster championship draw paired Cork with Kerry, who will be expected to advance despite their rivals' encouraging showing last summer.

For those not in the elite grouping, there's a new tier 2 championship on the horizon and Cork do not want to be part of that, no siree bob.

Manager Ronan McCarthy appears to have got his charges up to speed very quickly based on the big wins over Kerry and Tipperary to reach the McGrath Cup final.

“To me the league is as important this year as it was last season and the previous year, too.

“People are getting very excited about it in relation to the championship and I can understand why that is the case.

“If the tier 2 element wasn't at play we would still be preparing the same way for it.

“Part of the responsibility of the management team is to take calculated risks with players so we still have to bring guys through.

“We have to give fellows the opportunity at the right time and in the right place and we will keep trying to do that,” he said.

Cork have certainly cast the net wide and far, offering a taste of what senior inter-county is all about to a string of last season's All-Ireland U20 winning team and club players who've put their hands up for worthy consideration.

They defeated Kerry by 6-19 to 2-9 in Tralee with Damien Gore bagging a hat-trick, a feat repeated by Michael Hurley in the 3-19 to 0-14 win over Tipperary in Mallow.

Limerick's progress started with a 0-14 to 2-6 win over Clare, when Jamie Lee kicked 0-6, four frees, and centre-back Iain Corbett added a couple, as did Cillian Fahey.

The Shannonsiders had two goals to spare against Waterford in Dungarvan, winning by 2-10 to 0-10, with Gerard Stack and Danny Neville supplying the goals.

“Both games were good work-outs for us. In the five days I thought there were positives like fielding two completely different teams.

“We played some nice stuff, worked very hard, implementing things we had been working on in training.

Colm O’ Callaghan of Cork is tackled by Robbie Kiely of Tipperary during the 2020 McGrath Cup Group B match between Cork and Tipperary at Mallow GAA Grounds in Mallow, Co Cork. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Colm O’ Callaghan of Cork is tackled by Robbie Kiely of Tipperary during the 2020 McGrath Cup Group B match between Cork and Tipperary at Mallow GAA Grounds in Mallow, Co Cork. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

“There's been plenty of endeavour and fellows have been very honest and we're pleased that we have another game tomorrow.

“We're only two weeks out from the league so that will have to come into our thinking.

“A lot will depend on who is available to us. We still haven't had Brian Hurley, James Loughrey, Killian O'Hanlon, Kevin O'Driscoll, Ronan O'Toole.

“They are some of the guys that we need to get minutes into and now we have the Nemo lads available again.

“We will start to have a look at the Offaly game and I'd anticipate we will have a settled team for tomorrow's game.”

The one striking observation, which has prompted a lot of discussion, is the level of competition for places right across the board, to McCarthy's obvious approval.

“I'm not going to complain if people think we might be spoilt for choice in certain areas.

“The lifeblood of any team is the competition for places and it's certainly there for anyone to see.

“You need that edge. You need guys pushing each other on and challenging for places.

“It's there and we're never going to complain about that.” 

Cork are aiming for a 10th victory in the competition, which dates back to 1981, when Waterford were the inaugural winners.

Clare lead the roll-of-honour with 13 wins followed by Cork with nine, five apiece for Kerry and Limerick, three for Tipperary, two for Waterford and London also claiming a title.

Initially, neither Cork nor Kerry entered, but Kerry won it it 1996 with Cork claiming their first, a couple of years later.

The decade just completed was dominated by the big two with four wins apiece for Cork and Kerry and Clare and Waterford also getting in on the act.

This is Cork's third successive final appearance, losing to Clare by a goal last season, having pipped the Banner by a point the previous year.

Limerick reached the 2017 version, pushing Kerry all the way before losing by a point after extra-time.

The Shannonsiders' last triumph came in 2005, when they defeated CIT in the final.

Cork and Limerick last met in the final in 2007 with Cork winning by four points, 1-8 to 0-7. They're red hot favourites to win, but it's all about Offaly and getting off to a winning start.

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