Cork football must get back to the top tier

Cork football must get back to the top tier
Mark Collins and Johnny Buckley of Kerry. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Mark Woods

Football

ONLY a minority of tipsters expect Cork to make the football quarter-finals which underscores the dramatic fall from grace for a county which captured the All-Ireland seven years ago.

Indeed, you could even suggest Cork have slipped down the rankings closer to home in Munster, where Kerry are undisputed number ones with Tipp next and after that Clare are in with a shout of saying they're at number three given their big league win over Cork earlier in the year.

It's a point borne out by Mark Collins, who'll enter another championship season following his debut as a substitute for Aidan Walsh in the 2-20 to 0-14 qualifier win over Down in 2011, a repeat of the previous year's decider.

The 27-years-old accountant accepts the situation, but remains optimistic about the summer prospects.

“Our results have shown that we are not considered a top tier team now, but there's been plenty of under-age success and I believe there's enough talent in the group to suggest we're not too far away,” he said.

The Castlehaven play-maker didn't hesitate in identifying the main issues confronting a Cork side struggling on a number of fronts.

“I think one is showing what our potential is because we know there's loads of it there.

“We haven't shown it over the last few years for one reason or another. We just haven't put back-to-back performances together either and we need to start showing some consistency.

“We've had good displays like Kerry in the 2015 Munster final and last year we pushed Donegal all the way in the qualifiers.” 

Despite public indifference and a poor division two league campaign, winning just twice, against Fermanagh and Derry, Collins maintains confidence is still high.

“I think the morale within the group is unreal considering the knocks we've taken in a lot of disappointing defeats. Things are positive inside the camp.

“If we could get one big win it might really push us on. There's only a handful left from 2010 so we've basically a new panel, which has won very little together.

“First, we have to get our own heads right first and get over Waterford in Dungarvan tomorrow evening.”

Collins hasn't played against them before in the championship, but a humbling McGrath Cup defeat in 2015 is a timely reminder of how this tie slots into the category of banana-skin.

And the nightmare of the Tipp defeat 12 months ago still haunts so expect Cork to be at full tilt tomorrow and laying down a marker for the next day.

“As we saw last year, you can't take any game for granted. We went in as heavy favourites against Tipp and got shown up, so we must be on our guard against any complacency.

“We also had a lot of work done last year, but we let ourselves and the management team down.

“We believe there's a lot of talent within the group and if we can click I think we can cause a few surprises down the line. 

“Tipp have probably taken over the mantle as the second team in Munster and obviously there's great incentive to beat Waterford.

“Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, though, the prospect of a Munster final at the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh is obvious for everyone.” 

This is Cork's first competitive game since concluding their league schedule with a draw at home to Down, who did enough to avoid dropping another level.

It was an uninspiring league for Cork, who drew three times and lost to promoted Kildare and the Banner, too.

“At the start of the year our aim was to get promotion back to division one, but that didn't pan out which was very disappointing.

“Yet, we can take a number of positives from it. At one stage we were facing back-to-back relegations and had to go to Derry, which is a tough place to get a result.

“It was a morale-boosting win up there though we couldn't back it up the following week against Down.” 

Lady luck didn't smile much on Cork either, particularly as there's a generally accepted very thin line between success and failure in a notoriously difficult section to predict.

What irked was that Cork had chances to turn draws into victories, which would have made a difference.

“Colm (O'Neill) missed a free with time up against Galway and then I missed a free late on against Meath to put us two points up.

“That also ended in a draw and if you factor in the third draw against Down in the last game, when we were leading going into injury-time, we could really have ended up in a league final.

“There was a thin line and overall you'd have to say it was a small bit disappointing.” 

Collins recognises he's emerged as one of the team's leaders, a figure for the batch of youngsters to look up to for guidance and direction, especially when things aren't going to plan.

“There's a group of us around 27-28 who've been around the block a while and it's time for us to step up to the plate in that regard."

The Castlehaven play-maker is expected to lead the forward line on the '40 and bring the rest of the attackers into play with his accurate kick-passing while Collins is also a proven finisher. He'll also offer a hand at the back providing a link to the front men, who can thrive on quality possession.

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