WITH so many households looking at vacant chairs over Christmas due to Covid, you could be forgiven for thinking that the GAA all over the country was more than fortunate to get all the county championships completed.
For one moment, just imagine the Omicron variant had occurred in September; the show would have been over.
This week we’ll start with big ball activity. In light of the fact the provincial system survived the latest attempt on its life at a recent Special Congress, Cork’s football progress will continue to be compared with the happenings across the county bounds.
Early in the New Year, the business end of the Munster Post Primary Schools Senior competitions are set to start, though I probably should ask if there will be enough Covid-free staff available to reopen schools?
The four quarter-finals of the Corn Uí Mhuirí are down for decision on Wednesday, January 12.
Now, I’m well aware that the Cork schools that don’t participate in this top-end competition are still doing a commendable job in promoting Gaelic football. At the same time, the Corn Uí Mhuirí is considered to be a metric in measuring progress against the neighbours.
Over the past number of years, the record of Cork schools in this blue riband competition has been pretty dismal. Coláiste Chroíst Rí won it in 2011 and since then Kerry schools have been victorious.
In fact, the only time in the past 10 years a Rebel educational establishment came close to winning was in 2015, when Rochestown College, with a team featuring the likes of Sean Powter, Daniel Meaney, Kevin O’Donovan, David Griffin, and Shane Kingston, were defeated by PS Chorca Dhuibhne after a final replay.
In the upcoming quarter-finals, we have three teams from this side of the divide, with the remaining five schools located in green and gold land. Indeed the three Cork representatives are all from the West Cork, the first time in the storied history of Corn Uí Mhuirí this has happened.
In fact, the previous west of the viaduct winner was in 1991, when St Fachtna’s from Skibbereen were victorious. They no longer exist, in its place, we have Skibbereen Community School.
Along with Clonakilty CC and Hamilton HS, Bandon, they carry the Cork flag into battle.
Of course, it would be great if one of the three, went on to win, but I am not so sure. The short-term goal is that two out of the three would win their quarter-finals.
The one competition where Cork’s performance against Kerry will not be a metric is the upcoming Allianz NFL Division 2.
So what should we expect?
It will afford us the opportunity to view Keith Ricken’s initial attempts to put his stamp on proceeding. His appointment a few months ago was well received by the markets. This was primarily due to his success at U20 level and also to his entertainment of the media and others with his enlightening, humorous, and thought-provoking quotes.
His management carry the hopes and best wishes of not alone this column, but of all those who wish to see Cork back trading at the big markets.
After whatever the McGrath Cup is meant to bring to any season, the performance in the league should provide us with some direction.
Whereas no manager will ever be too keen to admit it, avoiding relegation has to be one objective. Many followers will demand that a top-two finish and promotion should be the real aim.
Looking at the schedule and considering Cork’s form over the past few seasons, there are no gimmes! Yes, viewed through our optimistic spectacles, Cork should be capable of defeating all seven compatriots in this division.
However, none of them will need a fleet of sports psychologists to convince that they are capable of picking up the two points against the Rebels. Cork must travel away for four of the seven games, which has be to an added challenge.
It may be somewhat interesting, that the first encounter on Sunday, January 30 is away to Roscommon. Some of you will remember, that the Conor Counihan era also began with an away trip to the Rossies in 2008.
However, the circumstances were somewhat different. A strike ensured that Cork didn’t fulfill their opening two games against Dublin (yes the Dubs were Division 2 occupants back then!) and Meath, so when they arrived in a place called Kiltoom, there was a larger contingent of the fourth-estate present than would normally have been the case.
Cork won 1-14 to 0-15 with Daniel Goulding the main white flagman and Donncha O’Connor slotting home an injury-time goal. It will be a testing trip for Keith and his team.
The other three journeys will be equally challenging. Derry, who have achieved back-to-back promotions, will also have to viewed as another massive test in Ownbeg.
Meath, who were relegated at the end of last year’s league, also realise that if they are to be viewed like Meath teams of the past, must at least win their home games.
The remaining away trip is O’Connor Park Tullamore against an improving side that should be further strengthened by the addition of players from their All-Ireland winning U20 side. Indeed that Offaly team were much too good for Cork in last July’s All Ireland semi-final.
That is the away itinerary. Figure out a points tally from that!
As for the visitors to Leeside?
Clare are considered by some to be the second-best team in the province. Galway have shown in recent seasons they can beat Mayo. Only Down could be viewed as a genuinely weak teams in the division.
Gentlefolks, they certainly are no gimmes!