IT was interesting to hear Cork coach Ronan McCarthy single out Mallow's Mattie Taylor in reference to how newcomers have responded to the demanding challenges of competing at inter-county.
The Mallow engineer has been a revelation along the left flank of the Cork defence with Clonakilty's Liam O'Donovan also progressing admirably on the opposite wing.
The change in Taylor in the space of a season has been highly visible in that the dashing wing-back is now coping more comfortably with the bruising physicality of the modern game.
Standing 5-11 and weighing just over 12 stone, Taylor, who made his championship debut against Tipperary last year, is a light-weight compared to others, but he has been able to stand up to the heaving hitting and still venture forward in his many attacking moves.
Bulking up hasn't taken away from his core play and that's the important balance which must be struck. Proper guidance is critical and is at the root of all this development.
McCarthy was quick to praise his players in the aftermath of the 4-20 to 1-15 drubbing of Laois in the round 4 qualifier in Thurles on Saturday, an overwhelming victory, which guaranteed a first appearance in the Super 8s.
That it's against the All-Ireland champions, Dublin, at Croke Park on Saturday evening at 7pm is sure to be a sobering prospect and the reality of the enormity of the daunting challenge will drop as the week unfolds.
“They have put in extraordinary amounts of work to get to this point. I reference a player like Mattie Taylor.
“He had bulked up before coming back for pre-season, having gone away after Cork were beaten last year and shown massive desire to get himself up to a certain level, physically.
“Mattie knew he had to do it and he’s just one of the players who went away and did that.
“We had a bruising pre-season with double sessions and it’s great to see their work is rewarded because it doesn’t always happen,” McCarthy said.
It comes as little surprise that Cork are ranked seven of the remaining eight sides with Meath propping up everyone.
Neither is it a shock that the four likely All-Ireland semi-finalists are Dublin, Tyrone, Donegal and Kerry, though Mayo might have something to say about all that.
It is fair to say Cork are in bonus country here, guaranteed to be playing championship football in all of July and into the first weekend of August. That is progress, as McCarthy acknowledged.
“We can’t lose from here. This team will have at least six championship games under their belt at the end of the season and you can’t beat that.”
Preparations begin in earnest this evening at training as Cork try to arrange a game-plan to face the Dubs and give a creditable account of themselves.
“You go out to win every game. You bring your A game and we will to try to bring the best challenge we can to the All-Ireland champions.
“This is where we want to be, to test ourselves against the best and let’s see where that takes us,” McCarthy commented.
This is the second year of the Super 8s. The first game is in Cork's group on Saturday, when Tyrone head to Dr Hyde Park to play a Roscommon side, which lost all three games in 2018.
The Dublin-Cork tie is next up and on Sunday there's an attractive meeting of Kerry and Mayo in Killarney while Meath face a tough task against Donegal in Ballybofey.
The Super 8 groups are: Group1: Kerry, Donegal, Mayo, Meath. Group 2: Dublin, Roscommon, Tyrone, Cork.
Group 1 fixtures: Sunday: Donegal v Meath, Ballybofey, 2pm; Kerry v Mayo, Killarney, 4pm.
July 21: Mayo v Meath, Croke Park, 2pm; Kerry v Donegal, Croke Park, 4pm.
August 3 or 4: Meath v Kerry, Navan, tbc; Mayo v Donegal, Castlebar; tbc.
Group 2 fixtures: Saturday: Roscommon v Tyrone, Dr Hyde Park, 5pm; Dublin v Cork, Croke Park, 7pm.
July 20: Cork v Tyrone, Croke Park, 5pm; Dublin v Roscommon, Croke Park, 7pm.
August 3 or 4: Cork v Roscommon, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, tbc; Tyrone v Dublin, Omagh, tbc.