THERE will be no second chances or backdoor option when Cork face Limerick in the Munster SFC semi-finals at the Gaelic Grounds.
The build-up to this year’s Munster last-four clash between the Rebels and Shannonsiders has been dominated by as many off-field topics as on-field selection and injury issues. Ronan McCarthy attributed a lack of imagination on the GAA’s part for not coming up with a backdoor option for counties taking part in the 2021 All-Ireland championship.
Whilst cognisant of ongoing Covid protocols, the Cork football manager makes a salient point when you consider his hurling counterpart Kieran Kingston was able to plan for the possibility of one, if not two, rounds of qualifiers before a sliotar was pucked in the Cork hurlers’ Munster semi-final against Limerick.
If it is ok for the All-Ireland hurling championship to add additional qualifying rounds to cater for provincial losers then why not the same for football? Granted there would be a lot more matches to organise but the LGFA and Camogie Associations have already proven that they can safely handle increasing crowd numbers within grounds. Why not the GAA as well?
Whatever your point of view, the argument is over for another year as the All-Ireland championships are up and running with both Limerick and Clare looking to extend their summers at the expense of Cork and Kerry.
Billy Lee’s Limerick footballers are coming off a terrific Division 3 South National League campaign. Limerick lost narrowly to Offaly but accounted for Tipperary and Wicklow en route to coming up short in the Division 3 League final by 4 points to Derry. Carrying that form into the Munster championship, Limerick put up an impressive 4-18 in overcoming Waterford in the quarter-finals.
It would be a pity if, and it is an if, Limerick’s season was to end at the hands of Cork. A full winter of players training before enjoying such a productive 2021 campaign deserves to go beyond a Munster semi-final.
The same applies to Clare ahead of their provincial semi-final showdown with Kerry. Colm Collins’ side were the talk of the National League after beating Laois and Kildare in their first two outings. A marvellous display and subsequent 1-point loss to Cork saw the Banner finish second in Division 2 South on scoring difference behind Kildare but ahead of Ronan McCarthy’s outfit. That meant a Division 2 final against Mayo rather than a relegation play-off against Westmeath.
Once again, Clare underlined their growing stature with a dogged display that may have ended in a 2-22 to 2-18 defeat but demonstrated enough quality to suggest a major scalp is not far off. Granted, Kerry proved a step too far in the Munster championship but Clare is a team that would have been favoured to go far if a backdoor or additional rounds were available.
As for Cork, the favourites tag has never rested easy on the shoulders of the county’s footballers for a myriad of reasons. Despite a disappointing end to their 2021 league campaign, Ronan McCarthy managed to overcome injuries to several key players before defeating Westmeath and retaining their Division 2 status.
Getting out of Division 2 would have represented a welcome boost but reaching a Munster final and putting it up to either Kerry or Tipperary is an absolute minimum requirement for a panel blessed with multiple attacking options.
Neither of Éire Óg’s star forwards Ciarán Sheehan (retired) nor Cathail O’Mahony (injured) will be available. Hopefully, Colm O’Callaghan will be passed fit while Castlehaven duo, Mark Collins and Brian Hurley who were used sparingly throughout the league campaign, can build on their impressive efforts against Westmeath.
Collins came off the bench in that Division 2 relegation play-off and contributed 1-1 while Hurley added an additional 1-4 having replaced an injured John O’Rourke after 31 minutes. Collins, Hurley and O’Rourke’s scoring ability will be pivotal to Cork’s chance of reaching a Munster final. Add in the emergence of Daniel Dineen alongside a fully-fit and in-form Luke Connolly and Ronan McCarthy will not be short of attacking options at the Gaelic Grounds.
Cork’s manager will need those players firing on all cylinders against a Limerick team with nothing to lose and coming off the back of an encouraging league campaign.