AN All-Ireland-winning All-Star attacker, Colm O'Neill knows about the importance of scoring forwards.
The AIB GAA ambassador Colm O’Neill, speaking at the regional launch of AIB’s sponsorship of the 2021 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, believes the firepower the Rebels possess is a major positive heading into summer.
While injury concerns will impact on Cathail O’Mahony and Ciarán Sheehan's participation, Luke Connolly, John O’Rourke, Mark Collins and Brian Hurley are up there with the best in the country.
“A lot of them have quality, and with Mark Collins and Brian Hurley coming back making a big impact [against Westmeath], it will be a big headache for Ronan (McCarthy) to settle on his front six.
“The challenge then is to find the right balance and get a good mix, but our options would be the envy of a lot of teams.
As a selector when the Cork U20s lifted the 2019 All-Ireland, he's aware of the talent coming through on Leeside, which is why failing to get promoted to Division 1 in recent weeks was a disappointment.
“I don’t think we’re that far away. Having said that, what do they need to make the step up to be top challengers? I suppose last year playing in Division 3... the main goal for any team is to be playing regular high-intensity games. That’s where you can really judge where you are.
“So you’d be disappointed at not getting promoted, but it is what it is. So for Cork to make the step up, that has to be a real goal in getting up there to test yourself week-in week-out.”
A plus for Cork was three wins, including beating Westmeath in a relegation clash, but only the second half against Kildare standing out as sub-par.
“It was a funny league with the split divisions, but they did win three of their four games, which you would have to be happy with from a Cork point of view. Before the league, you would have wanted promotion but, as it panned out, we were in relegation despite winning two games.
“I think you would have to be happy enough overall, but then also disappointed in the back of your mind because you wanted to get promoted to Division 1. Still, it’s not something the lads can dwell on because championship against Limerick or Waterford is coming fast and you have to focus on that.”
Ronan McCarthy's side shocked everyone last winter by knocking out Kerry, only to then misfire at home to Tipp in the Munster final.
“Last year was a funny one. I don’t think people outside the camp gave Cork a chance against Kerry, and justifiably so as they won Division 1 while we had been in Division 3. It looked like the teams were on different trajectories.
“Kerry [who must beat Clare and then Tipperary to reach a Munster final] would be favourites as they’re the one team who on form look like they can put it up to Dublin. But in 2020, it just showed what can happen on a given day — so the lads won’t lack belief.”
The Dubs remain hot favourites to retain Sam Maguire, with Kerry second in many eyes.
“Dublin obviously are top of the pecking order. Then you have Kerry, Mayo, Donegal and Tyrone, and below that there’s a chasing pack where you could make a case for five or six — with Cork in that bracket. But the goal is to get up to the top division and play regularly against those teams.”
What would represent a good summer for his county?
“It’s hard to say, really. You’d be hoping to get to a Munster final again this year. It’s knockout, which has pros and cons, but if they do get to a Munster final, it’s down in Killarney. It’s been 20-odd years since Cork won in the championship in Killarney [in 1995] and that will be at the forefront of Kerry minds if they do get there.
“It will be a difficult task with the form Kerry are in. If they can get over Kerry, and it opens up into an All-Ireland semi-final again then who knows. But it’s very hard to predict what’s going to happen until you can get over Kerry.”