CORK footballers avoided Kerry in the Munster semi-final and await the winners of the Waterford-Limerick quarter-final.
The Kingdom are again pitted against Clare with the winners taking on champions Tipperary, who ended an 85-year wait by shocking Cork in last year’s final, played in November.
All the indicators point to another Cork-Kerry decider at the end of July with first-round games set for the last weekend in June.
Cork played Waterford in 2017 in Dungarvan and were fortunate to escape with a 1-12 to 1-11 victory courtesy of injury-time points from Colm O’Neill and Paul Kerrigan and Donncha O’Connor’s 0-3 off the bench.
Two years ago Cork easily overcame Limerick in the semi-final at Pairc Ui Rinn, when early goals from Brian Hurley (2) and Ruairi Deane helped them to a resounding 3-18 to 0-6 triumph.
Selector Sean Hayes took a philosophical approach to the draw. “Our aim would be to make the final again which would be presumably against Kerry, but you just never know,” he said.
Before all that happens, though, it’s back to collective training tomorrow evening for the first time in over five months.
“Once again everything has to be staged outdoors. You can’t go inside with the dressingrooms again off limits.
“It’s going to be the same as last year, same protocols, so it will be our second time doing it.
“Fellows will travel on their own and you’ll wear a mask coming in, but, obviously, take off once you get on the pitch.
“Afterwards, then, there are no showers, so you basically collect your meal and head away.
“It’s not a very sociable setting anymore, but you’ll take it just to get back out onto the pitch, so you certainly wouldn’t be giving out about it,” Hayes added.
He confirmed Paul Kerrigan and Tomas Clancy are the only retirees from last season with a few U20s added in.
“There is no panel picked because for the obvious reason we haven’t seen the players.
“The worry is that fellows haven’t played for so long that there are injury risks, so bringing them back at right level is the key.
“Kevin Smith is our strength-and-conditioning coach and he is very good at it.
“Last year we lost players through injury, but you just carried on.
“We didn’t mention that we were down five players, but that is what a squad is for and you just get on with it.”
Cork’s season begins with a division 2 south league tie against Kildare in a month with no preparatory games likely.
“The league now becomes your challenge games which is disappointing along with the fact that there’s no back door in the championship again.
“You’d love to have one game just to have another chance because all teams will have teething problems at the start.
“I know it’s being reviewed again on May 4, but the most you’d have is one challenge match before the start of the league.
“And even that would be the week before you play three matches in-a-row, which isn’t great preparation either.
“It’s also different to last year because the players had been involved with their clubs in championship before the inter-county season.
“But, they’ll be coming in cold this time and the league is of a high enough standard without taking into account players not having played for months.
“There is no build up, which I personally believe is wrong and I must admit I’d be surprised if they turned around and told us we could play challenge match on the eighth.”
Cork also face Laois and Clare away in their bid for a top two finish and a place in the semi-finals. Hayes expects it to be highly competitive.
“I think we are all of the same standard. We want to go up and we certainly don’t want to go back down again.
“That’s a priority for us first of all, but we also want to win the All-Ireland.”