Cleary beefs-up Rebel squad ahead of hectic start to the season

Cork start with a McGrath Cup opener against the All-Ireland champions Kerry at Pairc Ui Rinn on Wednesday
Cleary beefs-up Rebel squad ahead of hectic start to the season

Cork football manager John Cleary starts the new season against old rivals Kerry at Pairc Ui Rinn on Wednesday. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

NEW Cork football manager John Cleary has beefed up his squad ahead of the 2023 campaign, which starts with a McGrath Cup game against Kerry at Pairc Ui Rinn tomorrow night at 7pm.

They travel to Cooraclare on Sunday week for the first of three games in as many competitions against Clare before starting their division 2 league season against Meath at Pairc Ui Chaoimh at the end of the month.

“Last year we found ourselves a bit thin in the panel with all the injuries and whatever. One of the first things we did, when I was appointed manager, was to extend the panel, particularly with the way the competitions are going this year,” he said.

“We’re going to have a lot of games one after the other and we’ve brought in a bit of experience that maybe hadn’t been there before.”

There are some familiar faces back in the squad, Ruairi Deane (Bantry Blues), Brian O’Driscoll (Tadhg MacCarthaighs) and Tom Clancy (Clonakilty) while Castlehaven’s Cathal Maguire is one of the newcomers.

Cork’s 2022 was blighted by injuries and while a lot of them are back some remain long-term. “Tadhg Corkery and Damien Gore are a few months away yet and others are still not at full throttle.

“Liam O’Donovan from Clon has been injury-free for the last month and he’s putting in a big shift. He’s nearly there but needs game-time and the McGrath Cup may come a bit too soon for him.

“We’ve about 40 players in our panel at the moment and the plan is to have a look at most of them in the competition.

“It’s a tough opener, playing the All-Ireland champions on the fourth of January without the benefit of a challenge match, but we’re back training about a month now and the lads are looking forward to it.” 

Cork’s last game was the 0-21 to 0-10 defeat by Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final at the end of June, when they only trailed by three at the break before the Dubs went through the gears on the resumption.

Missing from that team will be wing-back John Cooper and substitute Brian Hayes, who replaced his injured St Finbarr’s colleague, Steven Sherlock. Hayes has committed to hurling in 2023.

“John is gone travelling and we’re sorry to lose him, but we knew his intentions well in advance.” Cleary has enlisted respected coach Kevin Walsh from Galway and Olympic Walker Rob Heffernan to his backroom team.

“Kevin is a recognised coach who brings different thinking to the group. When I heard he was available I went after him and we’re delighted to have Kevin. He’s been there before as both coach and manager of Galway and club teams, we well.

“Rob is our performance coach who’ll have a look at the overall situation, advising the lads on fitness and performance and how to get the very best out of them.

“He’s been there and done it in his own career at the highest level so we’ll get his thoughts on what we’re doing from a different angle.

“Rob’s very enthusiastic as we all now and with him the glass is aways half-full. He’s been very positive in the past month and we’re looking forward to working with him.

CORK (v Dublin): MA Martin (Nemo Rangers); P Ring (Aghabullogue), M Shanley (Clonakilty), K O’Donovan (Nemo Rangers); J Cooper (Eire Og), R Maguire (Castlehaven), M Taylor (Mallow); I Maguire (St Finbarr’s), C O’Callaghan (Eire Og); S Powter (Douglas), E McSweeney (Knocknagree), J O’Rourke (Carbery Rangers); S Sherlock (St Finbarr’s), B Hurley (Castlehaven), captain, C O’Mahony (Mitchelstown).

Subs: S Meehan (Kiskeam) for Ring 48 and D Dineen (Cill na Martra) for McSweeney 48, B Hayes (St Finbarr’s) for Sherlock injured 54, C Kiely (Ballincollig) for Cooper 55, B Murphy (St Vincent’s) for O’Callaghan 69.

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