Cork GAA: We can be more positive about the Rebel footballers' prospects this season

Ger McCarthy reflects on the McGrath Cup victory over Kerry and makes the case for a good 2023 for the Leesiders
Cork GAA: We can be more positive about the Rebel footballers' prospects this season

Cork's Colm O’Callaghan scores his side’s fifth goal despite Greg Horan of Kerry. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

IT is still early January but Cork GAA senior football manager John Cleary and his team can add to their early season momentum in Clare this weekend.

We were in Páirc Uí Rinn for a first side-line view of the Cork senior footballers recently. 

Encouragingly, a healthy attendance was also present to witness John Cleary’s McGrath Cup season opener. Before we go any further, this was a pre-season game and the Kingdom were severely under-strength. 

Cork fielded a strong line-up up until the early stages of the second half and yes, this encounter won’t count for much should the two rivals end up meeting one another later in the year.

But what’s wrong with a bit of optimism? 

There has been constant negativity surrounding the Cork footballers, both inside and outside the county bounds, ever since the Rebels dropped down into Division 2.

John Cleary knows only too well the difficulty of the task that lies in front of him this coming year. The players too. All the more reason to try and, if nothing else, gain momentum via the McGrath Cup ahead of more important challenges.

So there were positives to take for Cork supporters leaving Páirc Uí Rinn, not least Colm O’Callaghan’s personal haul of 2-4.

Each of the six Éire Óg midfielder’s scores was finished with aplomb. O’Callaghan is already firmly established alongside Ian Maguire in the centre of the pitch. Increasing his scoring output would be a welcome development for such an important player in Cork’s starting 15.


Elsewhere, a returning Brian O’Driscoll repaid his manager’s call-up with an eye-catching effort and 1-2 from open play. 

The Tadgh Mac Cárthaigh and Carbery stalwart earned his chance off the back of consistent club and divisional efforts last year. 

O’Driscoll’s experience coupled with a desire to make the most of his second chance in a Cork jersey offers John Cleary another useful attacking option.

In defence, it was intriguing to watch both corner-backs, Kevin O’Donovan and Maurice Shanley, joining Cork’s counter-attacks whenever an opportunity arose during the opening half. Prising open 13 or 14-man defences is something Cork must improve upon this year. 

Utilising two additional corner-back outlets to dove-tail alongside wing-backs Rory Maguire and Mattie Taylor gives Cork options going forward. 

An interesting tactic to keep an eye on.

After that, there wasn’t much else to consider as major talking points so early in what will hopefully be a long season. 

Kerry manager Jack O’Connor’s decision to haul off six of his starters during the half-time break said more than any of his after-match quotes.

Cork’s manager said all the right things when surrounded by the media immediately after his county’s first outing of 2023. 

 Cork football manager John Cleary at Páirc Uí Rinn. Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
Cork football manager John Cleary at Páirc Uí Rinn. Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

There is a lot of work to do, there were pluses and minuses from Cork’s performance, the opposition fielded an experimental line-up and the McGrath Cup is being used to get minutes into players legs before the start of the National League.

A case of nothing to see here lads and let’s move along quietly to the next match.

Yet, you wouldn’t have blamed the Cork manager for allowing himself a wry smile on the drive home. 

There is no bad time to beat a Jack O’Connor-led Kerry team and in such a positive, sometimes swashbuckling manner too.

At its most basic, Cork’s maiden January performance elicited hunger, desire, a willingness to put bodies on the line, compete for every 50/50 challenge, press high (and wide) up the pitch and most pertinently of all, move the ball at pace. 

These are the basic fundamentals that John Cleary and his management team need to instil and improve upon irrespective of the opposition.

A much-changed Cork line-up is expected to tog out against Clare in the McGrath Cup this weekend. Sigerson Cup commitments means John Cleary will have to dig deep into his current panel for the first of three meetings against their Munster rivals in 2023.

It is another pre-season game against an improving Clare team that will be eager to get a look at their upcoming opponents in both the league and provincial championship.

How Cork fares against a three-pronged Leinster challenge of Meath, Kildare and Dublin during the opening three rounds of the National League will best indicate exactly where John Cleary’s side is. 

Until then, Cork supporters will take any pre-season positivity they can get before the real business starts.

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