Cork's McGrath Cup opener put back to Saturday afternoon

Keith Ricken's first game at the helm of the footballers has been switched from Thursday night
Cork's McGrath Cup opener put back to Saturday afternoon

New Cork football manager Keith Ricken is encouraged by new players involved in the return to inter-county training. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

CORK footballers will be missing more than just Ciaran Sheehan and Kevin O’Driscoll in 2022 which now starts on Saturday afternoon, instead of Thursday night, with the McGrath Cup tie against Clare in Miltown Malbay at 2pm.

The pair retired at various stages last year, Sheehan, on medical advice, during the summer and O’Driscoll later in November.

“There are a number of lads who’ve contacted us to say they’re not going forward,” declared new manager Keith Ricken.

“I won’t mention their names because they can do that themselves if they so wish.

“There are others who are not so sure, lads who want a bit more time after their club seasons only recently finished and that’s fine, too.” 

Cork's other game is against Waterford at Pairc Ui Rinn on Tuesday night at 7pm.

If successful, Cork would meet the winners of the other group containing Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary in the final on Saturday week.

It’s all gearing up for the opening division 2 league game away to Roscommon at the end of the month.

But, as ever, the Covid threat looms large as players become casualties themselves or are regarded as close contacts with resulting spells of isolation.

Waterford couldn’t field a team to play Clare at Walsh Park on Sunday due to Covid and injuries and they are unlikely to be alone as pre-season games across the four provinces crank up this week.

It should have been former Cork Ladies Football manager Ephie Fitzgerald’s first game at the helm as they build up for their Division 4 league campaign only for it to be postponed.

“We will pick a panel after the McGrath Cup for the league though it will have to be fluid for a number of reasons,” Ricken commented.

“One is that we’re looking at new people and new talent, but that will also take time.

“It will require patience because it won’t happen overnight.

“Covid and other circumstances surrounding it will impact even though everyone is tired of it at this stage.

“We still must be very careful with it because there’s an onus and a responsibility for each player, families and friends, so you can’t be taking any chances. I think there is a recognition of that.” 

The new management team have the bones of 60 players identified to cast an eye on though injuries, the Sigerson Cup, which starts this night week with the MTU Cork Campus-UCC derby, and St Finbarr’s involvement in in the Munster club final on Sunday week, reduces that number to about 50.

Yet, Ricken is boosted by what he has seen since inter-county training resumed a month ago.

“We have a number of players who have taken to it very quickly, fellows who might be considered average with their clubs but who have done well in college and are beginning to excel.

“Sometimes that can happen and you must provide a facility to allow that to happen. It could never happen in a closed-shop set-up.

“You must expose these players to the highest standards and more than once, as well. You need time to allow you change at how you look at things.

“It’s very important players get the opportunity to represent their college.” Ideally, Cork would love to have two separate panels for the McGrath Cup, but Ricken says it’s unrealistic.

“On any given day you could have seven or eight missing due to Covid, close contacts or just feeling sick.

“The MTU-UCC game is a day after the Cork-Waterford tie, so that will impact on selection because you can’t ask players to play on successive days.

“You’re always trying to mix and match and there’s a fair bit of manoeuvring to be done.

“There is no panel at the moment. Everyone has to put their hand up, especially with their clubs because that’s very important in our estimation.

“We might have one or two guys who didn’t have great club campaigns, but it’s been very difficult for everyone, especially younger people, in the last two years.

“Some have found it hard to negotiate on many levels, but we will give opportunities to guys who we believe have it in them,” Ricken concluded.

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