Cork will take on Dublin in All-Ireland quarter-final at Croke Park

Rebels will travel to GAA headquarters at the end of the month to face one of the favourites for Sam Maguire
Cork will take on Dublin in All-Ireland quarter-final at Croke Park

Cork's Brian Hurley gathers possession ahead of Limerick's Brian Fanning. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

CORK will meet Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final at the end of June.

When the draw was made on RTÉ radio on Monday morning Cork were first pulled out of the hat alongside Kerry (typical!) but repeat pairings were ruled out. Instead, it's Armagh v Galway, Derry v Clare, Dublin v Cork and Kerry v Mayo, an interesting mix of games that guarantee a new All-Ireland finalist this summer, with Dublin, Kerry and Mayo all on one side for the semis.

The Rebels will have nothing to lose in Croke Park as massive underdogs against a Dublin outfit that was relegated in the league but cruised to another Leinster title.

All-Ireland semi-finals: Galway or Armagh v Derry or Clare; Dublin or Cork v Kerry or Mayo. 

John Cleary's side have been heavily criticised by many inside and outside the county bounds throughout the year. That's nothing new for Cork football but it still made it difficult going for a panel filled with young and inexperienced players. 

Cork manager John Cleary has guided the county back to Croke Park. Picture; Eddie O'Hare
Cork manager John Cleary has guided the county back to Croke Park. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

They were on the brink of relegation from Division 2 in the spring and then new manager Keith Ricken had to step away. The latest nadir for the Rebels would have been reached if they dropped to the Tailteann Cup and back to Division 3 for next season. 

Expectations were unrealistic about a team in transition, even if there was talent there coming from the All-Ireland winning minor and U20 groups of 2019. Injuries didn't help either, including the loss of All-Star nominated defender Seán Meehan and Conor Corbett, the quick and deadly U20 attacker, before the summer and then Kevin Flahive in the Kerry game. 

What the management has done is find a settled 15 and are working on a style of play that doesn't leave them as open as they looked in the league, though Dublin will test that and then some.

Cork certainly have the inside forwards to pose any team problems in the vast expanse of Croke Park, unless they face a full blanket defence as suffocating as the one Louth tried. 

Captain Brian Hurley has hit 2-6 and has been fouled for a number of the frees Steven Sherlock has converted as part of his impressive haul of 0-22, while Cathail O'Mahony has added 1-3. O'Mahony doesn't get as much possession in the danger zone as Hurley and Sherlock but his three points against Kerry were all as sweet as it gets and he took his goal clinically against Limerick at a crucial juncture. 

The Rebel MVP of the campaign to date has been Seán Powter, who reads the play and tackles ferociously as the sweeper but also breaks the lines repeatedly running from deep. Nemo's Kevin O'Donovan has also been terrific in a similar deployment. John Cooper and Rory Maguire are showing real potential as well while Eoghan McSweeney has returned from serious injury to act as the link-man in the number 11 geansaí.

Not that it makes them a team ready to shock Dublin. They'll be dismissed in the build-up and have gotten little or no credit for their exploits so far.

For the long-suffering Cork football faithful, it's galling to hear the Rebels being dismissed time and again by TV experts. However, they'd have to admit that their path to the All-Ireland quarter-final was no arduous trek. Louth and Limerick, both at home. More Carrauntoohill than Everest.

Cork played well in both games but, like 2019 when they made the Supers 8s after defeating Limerick and Laois, they didn't have to take a major scalp. The Rebels haven't been Munster champions since 2012 and there have been very few championship victories over top-level opposition in the meantime. 

Success over Galway all the way back in '13 was the last win at Croke Park and there was the KO of Kerry in winter 2020 but otherwise, it's the likes of Sligo, Limerick and Longford that were taken down. The vagaries of the current qualifier system, which will change to a round-robin next year.

It's impossible to make a case for them stunning Dublin but for now it's about development after a period in the wilderness.

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