'The main thing is to remain injury free and rediscover a bit of form'

'The main thing is to remain injury free and rediscover a bit of form'
Colm O'Neill scoring a free against Louth. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

THE Colm O'Neill-Mark Collins partnership is reaping a rich reward for Cork footballers going into round 4 in division 2 against table toppers Cavan at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday, throw-in, 1pm.

Between them, they've accounted for 2-23 of Cork's scores with the pair offering an important free-taking element from either wing, too.

The 29-years-old O'Neill, who is in his 10th season in the famous red jersey, has contributed 1-10 from less game-time, having only been introduced after 46 minutes for the injured Sean Powter in the opening game against Tipperary.

The Ballyclough forward, who debuted in 2009, looked sharp on his introduction and admitted last season didn't go to plan from his perspective.

“I certainly won't be looking back on 2017 as a year in which I was totally happy with how it went.

“I did a good pre-season this year, though I picked up a small hamstring niggle in the warm-up for the opening McGrath Cup game against Waterford and that set me back a small bit. I was targetting a good start to the league.

“My body is sound now at the moment. There are no injuries, thank God. The main thing is to remain injury free and rediscover a bit of form,” the AIB official said during the week.

Although the Cork team wasn't available at the time of writing, the expectation was O'Neill and Collins would be named in the full-forward line, though nobody is taking anything for granted.

“Mark would normally play in the half-forward line, so it's a new experience for him to be closer to goals and it's also new for me having Mark in there next to me.

“In fairness, he's adapted very well and it's so far, so good. A lot of our inter-play is probably based on instinct at the moment, having linked up over the years.

“Mark is a great man to show for the ball and he's very good on it as well.

Colm O'Neill, Ballyclough and Mark Collins, Castlehaven. Picture: David Keane.
Colm O'Neill, Ballyclough and Mark Collins, Castlehaven. Picture: David Keane.

“Having said that there's a very competitive panel and nobody is guaranteed a starting place.

“There are five or six fellows knocking at the door, looking to get a place in the starting 15, so it's important once you're in the team to hold on to the position.

“I'm very encouraged about the panel's strength-in-depth, not just in the forward line but all over the pitch.

“Ronan and the lads have brought in new players to freshen things up and the lads haven't been found wanting.

“Ronan has made no secret that he's going to pick the team on form, so if you can hold your place it's up others to take it from you.

“It all means you can't be resting on your laurels. As they say you're only as good as your last game or your last training session,” O'Neill stated.

Cavan's visit to local headquarters is in stark contrast to the last time the Ulster county made the long journey south.

Indeed, such are the infrequent meetings between the counties that O'Neill reckons it was as far back as the 2010 All-Ireland winning season for their most recent engagement.

“I can't recall any meeting between the counties in recent times. I think the last game was in the 2010 qualifiers on a dirty night at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. I can't recall playing them since.

“I haven't seen them playing this year, but, having been in division 1 last year, Cavan must be reckoned with, especially as we haven't been in division 1 for a couple of years now.

“They've had a lot of success at under-age level in the last few years, so I'm sure they're travelling down here with no fear. I'm looking forward to the battle.” 

Cavan survivors, if any, from that 1-19 to 0-4 trouncing will be in awe of the redeveloped stadium.

“I've had only a brief spell out there, coming on as a substitute against Tipp, but it's a mighty pitch, huge and spacious.

“The pitch was a bit soft that night because there had been a lot of rain in the week leading up to it.

“It's a magnificent stadium, the closest size wise to Croke Park and hopefully we can do it justice with a performance on Sunday.

“The pitch looks actually bigger during league games, when the crowd wouldn't be as big for championship games.

“It's a great pitch for forwards because there's a lot of space, so the thing now is to try and exploit it.” 

It's first against second in the table and another significant milestone in the promotion race.

This is Cork's second season in the division and nobody is hiding from the target of rejoining the big boys at the top table next year.

“It is very important to get back up there. We made no secret last year that we wanted to get back, but it didn't work out.

“If anything that has made us even more determined to try and achieve it this season.

“We're second in the table after three games and a win on Sunday would leave us in a good position with three games left.

“It's all about playing the best teams regularly, the likes of Dublin, Kerry and Tyrone because you really want to test yourself against the top players.

“Division 2, though, is a very competitive league. It's very tight and one defeat could see you drop down a few places.

“Some of the results have been strange, too. Teams are going to take points from one another and it's very unpredictable.”

Cork play Meath, away, Clare at home and Roscommon away.

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