Cork footballers dragged themselves back from the brink and deserve support

Home qualifier with Limerick on Sunday offers fans the chance to make an All-Ireland quarter-final
Cork footballers dragged themselves back from the brink and deserve support

The Cork team line up against Louth in the All-Ireland SFC qualifier at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last weekend. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

BACK in February, when the weather was at its foulest, freezing, wet and windy, Cork lost back-to-back games against Derry and Galway in Division 3.

The mood in the camp matched the conditions and yet here we are less than four months later with Cork standing on the brink of a possible All-Ireland quarter-final.

Victory over Limerick in round 2 of the qualifiers at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday at 1.30pm will ensure Cork’s name in the hat for Monday’s draw with the possibility of meeting either Derry or Galway again, Ulster and Connacht champions respectively, at Croke Park.

Cork interim manager John Cleary. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Cork interim manager John Cleary. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

It feels like a world away from Cork’s struggles to even qualify for the Sam Maguire Cup by preserving their league status in the very last game against Offaly, but the lottery of the draw has been kind, very kind, indeed.

Cork took advantage of a home tie against defence-minded Louth a week ago and got the tie they wanted against Limerick, who must travel after playing at the Gaelic Grounds in the Munster semi-final last season, when Cork won by 1-16 to 0-11.

The Rebels are hotly fancied at 1-4 with the bookies, who rate the handicap four points, and these guys rarely get it wrong.

Against Kerry in the Munster semi-final, they were out by just a point and it was the same against Louth, suggesting it would be a three-point game with Cork squeezing through by four. Cork to win by five, accordingly!

Not that interim manager John Cleary will take any notice because he knows Limerick are very familiar opponents, who will fancy their chances of causing an upset and extend their season to another day out at Croker.

Cork forward Damien Gore in action against Louth. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Cork forward Damien Gore in action against Louth. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

Even though it’s only 11 months since their most recent outing much has changed in both counties with Cork more impacted by injuries than the Shannonsiders.

If injured keeper Micheál Aodh Martin (Nemo Rangers) doesn’t elbow Chris Kelly (Éire Óg) out of the way and it seems unlikely he will, Martin will be the fourth player to sit out the return game.

Joint-captain Sean Meehan (Kiskeam) and Kevin Flahive (Douglas) are joined by Brian Hartnett (Douglas) who all started in 2021, but are now injured.

Paul Walsh (Kanturk) partnered Ian Maguire (St Finbarr’s) at midfield and while he missed the entire league campaign Walsh came on for a fleeting appearance late on against Louth.

SURVIVORS

Cork’s survivors include Sean Powter (Douglas), Kevin O’Donovan (Nemo Rangers) and Mattie Taylor (Mallow) at the back, John O’Rourke (Carbery Rangers) and Dan Dineen (Cill na Martra) in the half-forward line and star man and captain Brian Hurley (Castlehaven) in the inside line.

Limerick have a more settled side with nine players who figured in their starting 15 at the Gaelic Grounds and three more, who played against Kerry in the recent Munster final, introduced from the bench.

Manager Billy Lee has assembled a strong squad and a feature of their team is their impressive conditioning, a side packed with powerful players in the key positions.

Keeper Donal O’Sullivan, who was injured early against Cork last time, full-back Brian Fanning and centre-back Iain Corbett are formidable performers in defence.

Darragh Treacy and Cillian Fahy, at midfield and centre-forward respectively, maintain the theme while Hugh Bourke’s accuracy from placed balls is well noted.

Limerick, despite the trouncing from Kerry, are battle-hardened as well, winning five of their seven Division 3 league games to finish runners-up to Louth, who also defeated them in the final.

It's been an intriguing championship, beginning with an historic 4-1 penalty shoot-out first-round win over Clare, who play Roscommon tomorrow, following a 2-16 to 1-19 draw after extra-time.

A two-goal success against Tipperary in the semi-final was more routine until, like Cork, they felt the force of the All-Ireland favourites in the decider.

Still, Limerick have it all to do against a Cork side likely to be unchanged from last week, when Hurley and Steven Sherock were irresistible, contributing 1-12 between them.

It was a testing afternoon for the Rebels, but they survived and the confidence from that 2-12 to 2-8 victory will stand to them in a game that surely must be more open than a week ago.

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