Rebel footballers are fancied to finish top of Division 2

Rebel footballers are fancied to finish top of Division 2
The Cork players make their way from the changing rooms to the pitch prior to the McGrath Cup match against Waterford. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

WITH four of their regular-season outings on home soil, Cork will be extremely well-fancied to finish their league campaign on top of the Allianz NFL Division 2.

Tipperary, next Saturday, Louth, Cavan and Clare all come to Leeside and, without sounding overly confident, the Rebels will be odds-on to win each of those encounters with a bit to spare, especially as their momentum should escalate throughout the sequence of fixtures.

As coaches and managers tend to do, Ronan McCarthy will probably point to three sticky away fixtures in Down, Meath and Roscommon as a means of urging caution before a ball is kicked.

However, as is often the case when the first and second favourites of each division clash on the final game of the regular-season, it is possible their trip west will be a dead-rubber ahead of a potential rematch with Roscommon in the league final itself.

Of course, it could be that the Rossies require two points in that match to guarantee their passage to the decider if the Royals are breathing down their necks, or vice versa.

Yet, it will be a tad surprising were Cork to not be in a commanding position in the section by the time they meet Kevin McStay’s outfit on March 25.

Arguably, Cork’s venture to Páirc Tailteann in Navan on March 4 should represent their greatest test in the series.

Interestingly, a few individuals on forums and social media are of the opinion Roscommon will overcome Meath in their respective opener this weekend.

The two counties meet at Dr Hyde Park on Sunday and the Rossies are expected to make home advantage count en route to a productive campaign.

Nevertheless, it would be folly to dismiss the Royals as, based on local reports, Andy McEntee is stirring plenty of positives within their camp.

Whether they take two points from their trip to Roscommon remains to be seen.

However, Meath would be a threat to the Leesiders when the time comes as they should be well in the hunt for honours by then.

Obviously, assuming Cork do justify the opinion victory should be achieved against the Premier on Saturday evening, a winner from the clash in the west would put the Rebels, and that other side, in the driving seat even this early as the standard outside of those three teams is not top-class, by any means.

Based on the form of 2017, you can see the arguments being made Roscommon should post a match-winning total on Sunday.

Yet, at this point in the season, does form count for all that much? I think it does, however, only when there is a perceived gulf in class between two counties. Not when both teams are of a similar level of potential.

Therefore, we will keep an eye on proceedings in that Roscommon-Meath clash with interest.

Regardless of all that, this section is still really all about Cork. McCarthy’s unit are expected to lift the trophy at the end of it all prior to turning their attentions to the Munster SFC.

He would hardly say so on the record, but McCarthy seems so clued in he probably already has a shape of the team in his head that will take to the field against Kerry in the provincial final should they meet later in the year.

It will be good, too, that Cork march on without their Nemo Rangers contingent for now.

The likes of Paul Kerrigan and Luke Connolly will be close to automatic starters on McCarthy’s team when the crunch ties loom.

So, straight away, there are two positions available during the league for which others can enhance their prospects of securing a spot on the championship.

And I foresee a serious number of players forcing their way into McCarthy’s long-term thinking throughout this campaign.

Speaking in the Irish Examiner yesterday, John Meyler discussed his appreciation that Cork folk’s expectations are heightened now following a progressive season last year.

“When I got involved last year, people were saying to me they were just looking for performances. 

"As the year went on, there was more expectation then. Suddenly, (Mark) Coleman and (Darragh) Fitzgibbon started to play, Luke Meade and Colm Spillane, they upped the tempo.

“People saw the shoots coming. 

"They saw things were happening and got behind the team. 

"The fact they were young and energetic, Cork people love that and the speed of their hurling. 

"Fitzgibbon’s speed and Coleman did one or two things in Thurles and they were incredible.

“Then you go through the summer and winning the Munster championship was incredible for them and the fact they were such a young side was like what Jimmy (Barry-Murphy) had in 1999 with the younger players.”

The public here need to remember, though, that last term is last term. 

It’s gone. 

In the past. Meyler needs time to impart his own philosophies and idea on this group.

And people travelling to Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday anticipating a monumental performance from the Rebels might be sadly mistaken. 

These projects are works in progress and win, lose or draw against Kilkenny, it is vital people retain perspective and patience because, after all, it is still only January.

The composition of Meyler’s first league team will be interesting as well. 

How will Cork approach the game in terms of a gameplan? 

It should make for a fascinating watch, especially as Brian Cody’s side are coming to Leeside on the back of blowing away the cobwebs in the Walsh Cup.

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