WHEN the odds for the 2019 All-Ireland football championship were released recently, Cork were placed 12th on the grid, with their odds priced at 250/1.
And nobody in their right mind, and with a significant wad of cash to wager, would be brave enough to take on that bet.
Five teams that will be ranked higher in the league than Cork in 2020 — in Division 2 — were behind them in the All-Ireland betting odds.
Yet Cork’s provincial draw — a likely meeting with Tipperary in the Munster semi-final — is the main reason Cork have been bumped up into the top 12.
That draw also gives them a far more realistic chance of making the Super 8s than far better sides.
“I would probably say, right now, that Cork are a Division 2 team that will be operating out of Division 3 next year,” said Billy Morgan.
“Cork are a better team than results in the league suggested.
“Making the Super 8s should be their goal. I know people will laugh at that, but that should be their goal.”
Morgan has more authority to assess Cork football than anyone else, but there are still two ways of looking at that quote: Cork’s form over the last two years gives them no firm claim to being a definite Division 2 team; yet, the draw gives Cork, as Morgan rightly notes, a legitimate shot at making the Super 8s.
If Cork can beat Tipperary — who also slipped into Division 3 — Cork will more than likely get a crack at Kerry (who face Clare in Ennis) in a Munster final before then — more than likely — having a 50/50 shot at a qualifier team to make it to the Super 8s.
Numerous counties in other provinces will rightly argue the unfairness of a system that gives Cork a shot at making the Super 8s that better teams won’t get.
Yet the system appears to be set to change.
Recently, Division 3 and 4 counties attended a meeting in Croke Park, where two options were put to them: those bottom-16 teams enter the second-tier championship unless they reach their provincial final, or the Division 3 and 4 sides play in one or two rounds of the All-Ireland qualifiers.
Reports suggest there was more support for the first option and the intention is for the favoured proposal to be put forward at Special Congress later in the year.
As of now, the second tier would apply to Cork, yet the lopsided provincial system still gives Cork a far better chance of avoiding the drop than most of the other bottom-16 counties.
Such a dispensation would have covered Laois last year, but Laois still had to beat three teams (Wexford, after extra-time, Westmeath, and a Carlow team that had beaten Kildare) to make the Leinster final.
Laois’ season ended with a qualifier defeat to Monaghan.
The margin was only five points, but it would have been far greater only for goalkeeper, Graham Brody, making six brilliant saves.
Roscommon were the only defeated finalists last year to make the Super 8s, after narrowly overcoming Armagh. Monaghan could have whacked Laois, while, in two of the other round 4 qualifiers, Tyrone drilled Cork by 16 points and Kildare beat Fermanagh by 11 points.
Two hidings in provincial finals, from Dublin and Donegal, shouldn’t cloud the progress Laois and Fermanagh made in 2018.
They both maintained that momentum in 2019, with Laois being promoted to Division 2, and Fermanagh going close to gaining promotion to Division 1.
Much of that progress is down to good management and, while certain teams will always oscillate, too many teams are just drifting.
And most are just cut loose once their provincial campaign ends: of the 16 qualifier games in rounds 1 and 2 last summer, ten were won by margins of eight points or more.
Most of those teams would be better suited to a Tier Two championship, but the concept has never been fully embraced by either the counties involved in those competitions (several of which have been tried before in different forms) or the public.
A number of factors have contributed to the general apathy, but the high volume of one-sided games in the All-Ireland qualifiers has prompted a rethink on a properly run alternative competition.
Central Council agreed, in principle, last September, to consider a Tier Two competition and invited counties to make submissions.
And the detailed blueprint that Wicklow forwarded to Croke Park is effectively what was put on the table last weekend.
Any Tier Two championship would have to be given proper recognition, and marketed vigorously, if it was to gain full acceptance.
But the biggest sell with any proposed format is to the counties who see themselves as above that status. And Cork would be top of that list.
Cork are in that kind of twilight zone at the minute: hoovering around the top 12-16 teams, but with a decent chance of making the top 8.
A summer in the Super 8s could totally accelerate Cork’s progress and confidence.
On the other hand, another summer of hidings from the big teams, which Cork suffered to Kerry and Tyrone last year, would do even more damage.
If a new system was to be put in place for 2020, Cork would be fully aware of the ramifications.
And if Cork don’t get promotion from Division 3 (and there is no guarantee they will against teams like Derry, Longford, Down, Tipperary, and Louth) and don’t reach a provincial final (which is a lot easier to do than in most other provinces), then they could have no complaints with being forced to play out their summer in a Tier Two competition.