THERE’LL be an extra pep in training this evening as Cork absorb the draw, which has pitted them against Mickey Harte’s Louth in the first round of the All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers the weekend after next.
Cork ticked a couple of important boxes, first, getting a home tie and then avoiding the big guns like Sam Maguire Cup holders Tyrone, beaten finalists Mayo and Ulster pair, Armagh and Monaghan.
Privately, interim manager John Cleary and the rest of the management will be saying they were due to a break given all the upheaval due to injuries.
Conversely, though, Louth, who joined Cork in Division 2 next season after capturing the third division title in such impressive fashion, won’t be too despondent about having to travel because Harte will believe this is a winnable game for the Wee County.
His views would have mirrored Cork’s in that ideally a home draw was top priority and if the pulling of names from the hat produced an away tie, then visiting Leeside isn’t the most daunting.
Louth will be saying it could have been an awful lot worse, like travelling to any of the Division 1 teams, three of them in Ulster, and you could imagine what Harte would have been thinking if, say, Louth had to play Tyrone in Omagh.
We can safely say the game will not be as one-sided as their last encounter back in October, 2020, when Cork clinched the Division 3 title with a thumping 5-19 to 0-16 triumph at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, condemning Louth to the drop in the process.
The gulf in class between teams at opposite ends of the table quickly became apparent as Cork, aided by the wind in the first-half, jumped 3-9 to 0-8 clear by the interval.
Colm O’Callaghan (Eire Og) bagged the opening goal, part of Cork’s 3-6 without reply scoring surge, as Ian Maguire (St Finbarr’s) added the second before Paul Kerrigan (Nemo Rangers) pounced for the third.
There was little respite for Louth on the resumption either with Kerrigan claiming his second and Cork’s fourth goal inside four minutes before Louth had a player dismissed and Mark Collins scored the fifth.
The visitors’ discipline deteriorated in the closing stages as they finished with 12 men, leaving a long soul-searching journey back up the motorway.
Yet, the landscape has changed a lot in the meantime in terms of management, Keith Ricken taking over from Ronan McCarthy as boss, but handing the reins temporarily to John Cleary, and Harte galvanizing Louth in only his second season at the helm.
There has been a lot of player movement, too, with Cork having only seven starters for their recent 0-23 to 0-11 loss to Kerry in the Munster semi-final.
And two of those are ruled out through injury after Kevin Flahive (Douglas) suffered a cruciate injury and keeper Micheal Aodh Martin (Nemo Rangers) a groin tear.
The defence is bolstered, though, by the inclusion of Maurice Shanley (Clonakilty), Kevin O’Donovan (Nemo Rangers) and Mattie Taylor (Mallow) with Maguire and O’Callaghan likely to be at midfield. Eoghan McSweeney (Knocknagree) came on in both games.
Louth are set to have just a half-dozen of the side which started in Cork the last day, Dan Corcoran and Bevan Duffy in the full-back line, Tommy Durnin at midfield and Liam Jackson, Sam Mulroy, the team’s free-taker, and Conall McKeever in attack with a new half-back line on display.
While Cork preserved their Division 2 league status with a one-point win over Offaly in the last round of fixtures, Louth were securing promotion from Division 3.
They topped the table before pipping Limerick by 1-14 to 1-12 in the final at Croke Park, pouncing for a critical goal mid-way through the second-half with a lightning-quick counter-attack after Limerick lost possession in the half-forward line.
Louth also have the benefit of a championship victory this term, slamming five goals past Carlow before finding the step-up against Kildare a bit too much, going down by 2-22 to 0-12, and this against opponents who were relegated from Division 1, as were Dublin.
The draw is: Mayo v Monaghan; Clare v Meath; Cork v Louth; Armagh v Tyrone.