ALREADY faced with shoring up a porous defence, Cork footballers are now losing quality forwards through injury ahead of their Munster semi-final against the winners of Waterford-Limerick who meet at the LIT Gaelic Grounds on Saturday.
Last year’s beaten finalists were certain to be missing Ciaran Sheehan, whose retirement from the inter-county scene severs the last link to the 2010 All-Ireland triumph, and Cathail O’Mahony, central to the U20 success in 2019.
Now, the latter’s All-Ireland winning colleague, Colm O’Callaghan, is in a race against time to be fit after limping off during Eire Og’s Bons Secours county senior A triumph at the weekend.
Sheehan damaged his knee against Clare in Ennis after 20 minutes and was replaced by the outstanding O’Mahony, who contributed 0-5 to Cork’s narrow victory.
But, the Mitchelstown star didn’t last the relegation play-off against Westmeath, pulling up close to the interval after opening brilliantly with 0-3.
Their ploy during the league was to mix and match experience and youth, both in the starting 15 and on the bench.
Castlehaven pair Brian Hurley and Mark Collins were regularly used as impact substitutes with telling effect, often joined by O’Callaghan another of the 2019 class, Damien Gore.
Two more, Blake Murphy and Mark Cronin, will move up the pecking order as will Eoghan McSweeney, who came on against Westmeath.
O’Callaghan’s departure approaching half-time in the final meant Eire Og were down three key players, Sheehan and full-back John Mullins, unable to line-out.
It made their 2-13 to 1-7 triumph against Mallow all the more praiseworthy, especially considering they scorned three clear-cut goal-scoring chances and their wides jumped into double figures.
Mallow struggled for possession and scores, going 11 minutes without a score after Michael O’Rourke’s third minute goal and posting just 1-1 after 28 minutes.
Eire Og set the tone from the throw-in as centre-back John Cooper bombed up field, which became a feature of his magnificent display, no doubt catching the attentions of the watching Cork management.
Yet, their nine wides and only a three-point lead at half-time, after dominating for so long, left the Ovens club exposed.
Mallow finished the half strongly, adding 0-3 in as many minutes, to set-up an interesting third quarter.
But, there was no hint of panic, according to Eire Og manager Harry O’Reilly.
“We were three points up and very positive,” he said. “We said to the lads if we win the second-half we’ll be going home with the cup.
“We had to drive on and get a few scores, which we did and managed to put the game to bed in that period.
“We missed 3-6, 3-7 in the first-half, but we got a bit of luck with our second goal, when the ball came back off the crossbar.”
Eire Og began the second-half just like they started the game, strengthening their grip with 1-3 and holding Mallow scoreless for 22 minutes.
Pace was Eire Og’s ace, supplied by Cooper, midfielders Jack Murphy, from the 2019 U20 side, and Ronan O’Toole, in addition to Joe Cooper and Eoin O’Shea on the flanks.
Now, they can’t wait for the 2021 premier senior to begin as they join Carbery Rangers, Castlehaven and Newcestown in Group 2, starting with Rosscarbery on August 20-22.
For Mallow, it’s Group 3 in senior A again, facing Fermoy, Clyda Rovers and Bantry Blues, having defeated Fermoy in the semi-final and Bantry in the group phase in 2020.
Popular trainer Paudie Kissane remains on board for Eire Og, who will relish the challenge of making their inaugural appearance in the top grade.
Daniel Goulding finished the championship as leading scorer with 2-38, which included 2-6 from play against Kiskeam.
The leading scorers: 1. D Goulding (Eire Og) 2-38, 17f, 1’45, 1 sideline.
2. C O’Riordan (Mallow) 2-19, 8f, 1’45, 1 sideline.
3. M Sugrue (Bandon) 1-19.
4. A Coakley (Bantry Blues) 1-16.
5. D og Hodnett (O’Donovan Rossa) 3-8, K Davis (do) 1-14, D MacTomais (Ballingeary) 0-17.
8. R Deane (Bantry Blues) 2-10, M Buckley (Dohenys) 1-13.
10. R O’Hagan (Fermoy) 2-7.