Cork footballers return to league action in five weeks with promotion to Division 1 the goal

League and championship fixtures await to be made but there will be disappointment at the absence of a back-door route in the quest for Sam Maguire Cup glory
Cork footballers return to league action in five weeks with promotion to Division 1 the goal

Cork captain Ian Maguire and colleagues await the start of the new season as they return to Division 2 in the National League.  Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

CORK footballers are guaranteed a minimum of four national league games, when their Division 2 South campaign starts on the weekend of May 15-16.

They’ll play Kildare, Laois and Clare on three successive weekends with results determining whether they’ll be chasing promotion or trying to avoid an immediate return to division 3.

Division 2 North comprises Meath, Westmeath, Mayo and Down. Fixtures could be announced at the end of next week.

The top two teams in the two sections will progress to semi-finals on the weekend of June 12-13 with the final a week later, but it may not be played.

That is because the provincial championships are scheduled to start on that weekend of June 19-20 and they take precedence.

Cork won’t be involved in Munster until the semi-final stage, having been seeded for reaching last year’s final, when losing to Tipperary.

But, should Cork reach the league final the game can only take place if their opponents aren’t involved in championship a week later.

The two finalists, whether the game takes place or not, will be promoted anyway to division 1.

Should Cork finish third or fourth in the group, they will then be involved in relegation games on a similar basis with the losing semi-finalists relegated to the third tier.

In summary, all four divisions in the league begin on May 15-16 and run to June 19-20 with divisions divided into North and South as originally planned in December.

There will be four teams in each group based on geography with three round-robin games and the top two advancing to the play-offs.

Relegation will be decided the same way with the bottom two teams in each section playing off and the losers dropping a division in 2022.

The bottom teams in division 4 will play a shield semi-final and final, but London will not be involved this season because of Covid restrictions.

There will be joint winners in any division that can’t play a final.

The race for the Sam Maguire Cup will take the same format as last year, a straight knock-out with no back-door route for losing teams in the provinces.

Again London won’t be involved and it’s the same situation for New York and there will be no Tailteann Cup, which is designed for teams in divisions 3 and 4.

Both Cork and Tipp await the outcome of the draw a week today in Munster which has Kerry, Clare, Waterford and Limerick in the hat for two quarter-finals with the winners progressing to meet either Cork or champions Tipperary.

Should Cork draw the short straw and are paired with Kerry, who, presumably, should have little trouble in winning their first round tie, then the game will be in Killarney.

Those quarter-finals are listed for June 26-27 with the semi-finals a week or two later and the decider on the weekend of July 24-25.

Connacht play their final the same weekend while the finals in Leinster and Ulster are pencilled in for the following weekend, July 31-Aug 1.

The All-Ireland semi-finals are on August 14-15, featuring the winners of Munster and Ulster and Connacht and Leinster.

The All-Ireland final is scheduled for a fortnight later, August 28-29, which will signal the end of another strange championship.

Then, it’s the turn of the clubs who have the stage to themselves from September on, but championships can start earlier once county teams finish their seasons. In football, that will be from the end of June.

Similarly, from August 1, all counties, with the exception of the All-Ireland semi-finalists, will be free to stage club competitions with county players.

The start of the provincial club championships is being delayed until mid-November and the provinces have been requested to ensure clubs from counties in the All-Ireland semi-finals and finals will not be involved in the earliest round of championship, where possible.

The suggested dates for the start of provincial club championships are November 20-21 with the All-Ireland club finals are provisionally pencilled in for February 12-13, 2022.

Senior inter-county training resumes a week tonight, but whether challenge games are permitted before the league is unknown at this time.

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