League survival will do for the footballers once they get the right blend for summer

League survival will do for the footballers once they get the right blend for summer
Cork players after the team shot before the Cavan loss. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

THE sneachta offered a few bonus days off for most Leesiders, an igloo-building, toboggan-riding distraction, and perhaps a welcome break for the county’s hurlers and footballers.

The closest we got to sport last weekend was Anna Geary and Rob Heffernan grooving and shaking on Dancing with the Stars, with the footballers’ trip to Meath postponed as well as the hurlers’ game in Semple Stadium. When rugby and basketball, apart from Glanmire versus Brunell on Sunday night, was falling by the wayside, it certainly wasn’t hurling weather.

There’s probably a joke in there somewhere about a blanket defence and blankets of snow, but the Cork footballers were better served by a brief respite from league action than a tough test in Navan. The next few weeks are going to be extremely challenging for Ronan McCarthy’s side because even with four points from their victories over Down and Louth, they’ve three pretty difficult games.

Roscommon away is probably the most demanding of them of all, followed by that Meath tie, but you couldn’t say the home game against Clare is a gimme either. That’s a Saturday night fixture on March 17, a few hours after Nemo Rangers take on Corofin at Croke Park, and while Cork would be hopeful of lowering the Banner, it’s really a 50-50.

Nemo's Luke Connolly. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer
Nemo's Luke Connolly. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer

What McCarthy and his selectors wouldn’t give to have the Nemo contingent of Paul Kerrigan, Luke Connolly, Barry O’Driscoll and Stephen Cronin at their disposal. Even rookies like Aidan O’Reilly and Alan O’Donovan would add a lot to the current squad, given their pedigree with the Rangers’ county-winning outfits of 2015 and 2017.

Kerrigan is a rarity, in that he’s been more effective in his late 20s and early 30s than he was during his initial breakthrough with Cork. He’s a rounded forward now, rather than just a ball-carrier and scorer, and his work-rate was a key element to Nemo’s defeat of Slaughtneil when he tracked their playmaking half-back Chrissy McKaigue for the 80-plus minutes.

Kerrigan managed to curb their talisman’s enthusiasm while also picking off three points of his own. He’s the last man standing from the 2003 Cork minor crew that included Pa Kelly, Michael Shields, Fintan Goold, Alan O’Connor, Daniel Goulding and more, apart from Eoin Cadogan who switched to hurling anyway.

While Cork, unfortunately, have been at their worst in front of the crowds in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in losing to Tipp and Cavan, Kerrigan’s experience and sheer class would have made a difference. Connolly’s X-factor was sorely missed too, while Cronin and O’Driscoll would have fortified a very raw defence where new faces are being auditioned.

Mark Collins is the one player who can’t be faulted for his efforts this spring (though does it count as spring when there’s a snowstorm?).

After four games he has amassed 1-15, 1-10 from play, in a new role closer to goal. Collins has been a dynamic midfielder for Castlehaven, operated on a roving commission from wing-forward for Cork, and is a creative force at 11, where he perhaps was never used enough by various Rebel managers.

Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

All hope is not lost for the summer if Collins maintains his form, while Sean White is building on his underage promise as a powerful link-man and scorer from the wing. When the Nemo crop are back, and if Aidan Walsh and Seán Powter stay fit, Cork have the players to be competitive in the championship.

That being said they need to steady to ship now and avoid relegation to Division 3 which would shatter their already brittle confidence. Promotion isn’t realistic at the moment and wouldn’t be of any great benefit either.

It’ll be fascinating to watch how the fixtures schedule pans out after a full weekend was wiped out. April is a ‘club only’ month but it’ll be some squeeze to get all the league games finished by March 31. Easter Sunday is April 1 so the clubs in Cork are gearing up for games from the following weekend.

Billy Morgan, coming from the perspective of UCC manager, didn’t pull any punches in the Evening Echo last week when discussing the changes to the season and underage grades.

“I believe that is a joke, what do they expect the clubs to do in April? What will happen is that there will be a round played in that month and then it will go back out to the middle or late summer? They are totally out of touch up there. I mean changing the minor from U18 to U17 and the U21 to U20, what’s that about?

“Most young fellas now are doing their Leaving Cert at 19. I know for a fact that there’s three or four of the Cork U20 football team, their first-round championship game is in the middle of the Leaving, now I don’t know whether they will play or not.

“And going back to my original point, when we played NUIG in the Sigerson, a lot of our players were playing their fifth game in under a fortnight. With that situation, it is inevitable that you will have injuries and on that day we had six absentees, four of them were injured.”

Some people can take or leave the college competitions but they’ve served Cork well this decade, most notably in hurling where Seamus Harnedy blossomed into an All-Star after shining in the Fitzgibbon Cup.

Alright there are a fair few Kerry footballers and Tipp and Waterford hurlers in the UCC and CIT teams, but they have always helped bridge the gap from county minor to senior for Cork players.

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