CORK’S lone change in the team to play Clare in the final Division 2 south league game at Cusack Park on Sunday at 1.45pm reflects the need to build on last weekend’s win over Laois.
The only alteration to the starting 15 is the inclusion of Tadhg Corkery from Cill na Martra in defence with Kevin O’Donovan reverting to the bench.
Manager Ronan McCarthy resisted the temptation to fiddle with the forward sector even with the availability of fit-again Brian Hurley and Cathail O’Mahony.
Corkery, who started last season’s Munster final against Tipperary in the enforced absence of Sean Powter, begins his first league game of the campaign, having been introduced against Kildare and Laois.
There is a welcome return to the squad for Clonakilty wing-back Liam O’Donovan, who tore his cruciate last July and missed the rest of the season.
He is one of a number of changes to the substitutes’ panel, which also includes O’Mahony and Hurley, to the exclusion of Mark Cronin and Blake Murphy, members of the 2019 U-20 All-Ireland winning side, and Dan Ó Duinnin.
While there are a series of possible permutations depending on the result and that of the other game in the group, Laois at home to Kildare, a four-point win for Cork will guarantee a promotion play-off against either Mayor or Meath.
Cork would edge Clare by having a superior scoring difference of +1 should the pair finish level on four points along with Kildare.
Their scoring difference is +1 at the moment and need to catch Clare’s +10 and Cork’s +7 to make the promotion decider.
Laois could still creep in, but it would take an unlikely series of results and score lines for that to happen. They are set for a relegation shoot-out with either Westmeath or Down with Cork, Clare and Kildare hoping to avoid that banana skin.
This is a serious examination of Cork’s credentials because Clare have developed into a very difficult to beat as Kildare found out at home a week ago.
Much of the credit is due to manager Colm Collins, who enjoys the distinction of being the longest-serving football manager with the same county.
This is his eighth season with the Banner and Collins takes over the mantle from the great Mickey Harte, who, this season, moved to take over Louth, having been 18 years at the helm in Tyrone.
When Collins’s reign started in the 2014 campaign, Clare were considered an after-thought, languishing in Division 4 and seemingly going nowhere.
But, he engineered two promotions and is now just a couple of games away from leading his county to division 1, something which would have been unthinkable until recently.
A couple of familiar figures with Clare will be missing, though, towering midfielder Gary Brennan and stout defender Gordon Kelly retiring after great service in the jersey.
Injury has also left Jamie Malone sidelined and the absence of this trio makes Collins’s achievement all the more praiseworthy. He placed his faith in newcomers Daniel Walsh, Joe McGinn and Cathal O’Connor and they’ve responded well.
“At some stage, we had to replace these players and it’s just an opportunity for these younger guys coming up.
“What we’re finding now is some of the young guys are stepping up to the plate as leaders and they’re developing now,” Collins told a recent podcast.
“It might take a little while, but there’s a lot of very talented young fellows in Clare and now some of them are going to get the opportunity. I think they’ll grasp it.”
The exploits up front of Eoin Cleary is another obvious threat to Cork’s prospects because he has scored 0-17 to date from two games.