CORK are mindful they’ll need to up their performance levels again, against Clare at Cusack Park on Sunday, at 1.45pm.
That’s according to forward John O’Rourke, who knows, from experience, the quality of opponent that lies in wait in Ennis.
It’s the concluding game in Division 2 South, after which Cork will know whether they’ll be playing for promotion to Division 1 or trying to preserve their status for another year.
“Clare had a great start to the league and have shown, in the last five to 10 years, that they are a very good team,” the 29-year-old Carbery Rangers player said.
“It’s a great challenge for us and playing away, too, but it’s also an exciting week going into another must-win game.”
Cork lost to Kildare in their opening game, but bounced back last week, against Laois.
“We will need another improved performance, especially as Clare won the last three league games against us. And they were deserving winners, as well, because they were better than us in all the matches,” O’Rourke said.
“On a couple of occasions, we hadn’t been playing well going into the games, but we’ve worked very hard in recent years to get better.
“I think we have improved since the 2019 league, and we really want to kick on now, knowing we have to keep on improving.
“Clare have some very good players in a good team, which works hard for one another, and coach, Colm Collins, has done a very good job.” O’Rourke started with the training panel in 2012 and began playing the following season.
He saw encouraging signs against Laois. “We had to win last week and were happy to have played a bit better than we did against Kildare and be in with a chance of getting through. We’re looking at improving week by week and working on aspects in training which didn’t go well the last day.
“One thing you could see was the work rate, and the amount of tackles we got through, was a lot better.
“I thought we were a bit off the pace against Kildare in those areas and they were just a couple of aspects we worked on. We still made a lot of mistakes against Laois and it wasn’t a great performance or anything like that, but we did improve.
“I thought we played a bit more on the front foot and we definitely didn’t waste as many chances, but it was all about the work-rate,” O’Rourke said
Again, the game will be played behind closed doors and it remains difficult for players to adjust.
“I found it a bit hollow, playing in Thurles and Páirc Uí Chaoimh, for example, all a bit surreal.
“It wasn’t too bad in Portlaoise, which is a smaller ground, but, in general, once the ball is thrown up, you start to focus on what you have to do yourself.
“After a while, you get used to that hollow sound and the lack of atmosphere, as well as the absence of people urging you on,” O’Rourke said.
The FA Cup final showed what it’s like to have fans back at games and generating a great atmosphere. People are also looking forward to returning to watch games themselves, be it inter-county or club matches.”
O’Rourke paid tribute to the backroom staff in bringing players up to speed in such a short time.
“Our medical team had a plan for us, once we came back training together. They weren’t going too hard at the start, even though every team seems to have different kinds of injuries.
“We were unlucky, in that Killian O’Hanlon and Aidan Browne suffered cruciate-ligament injuries in separate incidents,” O’Rourke said “Killian’s happened in non-contact, while Aidan picked up a slight knock and didn’t think it was as bad as it turned out.
“It’s a credit to the medical team that we don’t have as many injuries as others, like Donegal, who picked up four injuries in a game last weekend.
“It is difficult for medical and sports science teams to get the balance right, but we’re in exceptional times and just delighted to be playing again,” O’Rourke said.