CORK won’t be able to wallow in the disappointment of losing their Munster SFC semi-final as the first round of GAA All-Ireland senior qualifiers looms large on the horizon.
The Rebels’ next opponents will be one from Tyrone, Mayo, Armagh, Clare, Louth, the losers of Dublin versus Meath or Derry versus Monaghan following the completion of the latter quartet’s provincial semi-finals.
It is a cliché but, irrespective of who Cork end up playing, John Cleary and his squad face a tough challenge to stay in this year’s All-Ireland senior championship. The opening round of qualifiers are pencilled in for the weekend of June 4-5.
A preliminary qualifying round might be needed should a Division 3 or 4 team manage reach a provincial final, for example, Tipperary.
On paper, drawing Clare or Louth would appear the Cork footballer’s best chance of extending their inter-county season. Yet neither of those would be pushovers considering their recent improvements.
The Banner managed to salvage a point from their previous encounter on Leeside, a 1-13 to 1-13 National League Division 2 draw, at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last February. Colm Collins is one of the most highly respected coaches in modern-day football.
The Clare manager will have been as gutted as his players following their penalty shootout (a first-ever in GAA championship history) loss to Limerick in the Munster quarter-finals. An opportunity to atone for that crushing defeat makes Clare dangerous.
Louth have been transformed since Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin’s arrival. Two consecutive promotions saw the ‘Wee County’ top Division 3 and defeat Limerick 1-14 to 0-12 in this year’s league decider at Croke Park. Their recent Leinster heavy championship loss to Kildare notwithstanding, Mickey Harte and his revitalised players would not fear taking on Cork.
Following a disappointing Division 1 League campaign, reigning All-Ireland champions Tyrone were stunned by Derry, 1-18 to 0-10, in the Ulster championship.
Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher have their work cut out to resurrect the Red Hand’s title defence but any team that can call upon the combined talents of forwards such as Darren McCurry, Cathal McShane and Niall Sludden deserves respect.
Tyrone will not want their All-Ireland title defence to fizzle out following two consecutive losses. Tellingly, the Ulster side’s previous two championship qualifier meetings with Cork ended in 3-20 to 0-13 (2018) and 2-15 to 2-12 (2019) victories.
Mayo and Armagh plied their trade in Division 1 of this year’s National League and both would be favourites if drawn against Cork.
Kieran McGeeney’s new-look Armagh enjoyed a positive league campaign by defeating Dublin, Tyrone and Kildare, drawing with Monaghan and losing narrowly to Mayo, Kerry and Donegal.
A frustrating 1-16 to 0-12 loss to Donegal in the Ulster quarter-finals suggests this is an Armagh team with a lot to learn but also one capable of taking a major scalp before the 2022 All-Ireland championship concludes. Tiernan Kelly, Rory Grugan and Conor Turbitt are three Orchardmen capable of causing havoc in any defence.
Mayo were well beaten by Kerry in this year’s Division 1 decider before suffering a humbling defeat to Galway, who Cork know all about from this year’s league, in the Connacht championship.
Despite their inability to get over the line in recent All-Ireland finals, James Horan’s side remain one of the top-ranked team entering the qualifiers. Mayo edged Cork 0-27 to 2-20 after extra-time following an epic qualifier in 2017.