THE hurling and football leagues are very different animals.
Corkonians would certainly enjoy a victory over current hurling kingpins Limerick at floodlit Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday but also realise it won’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things. Quite understandably, Cork tore into Limerick in last year’s league meeting on Shannonside because the wounds from the 2021 All-Ireland final drubbing were still fresh but it didn’t make any odds when the Munster round-robin rematch came around.
In fact, you could make the case that reaching the league final only to fall short against Waterford bruised Cork’s championship confidence, especially with the short gap. With Pat Ryan heading up a new management set-up, the Rebel faithful are hoping to see some fresh faces nail down places and will be intrigued by how the tactics will differ from Kieran Kingston’s. There won’t be too much read into league results though.
It’s a very different scenario for the footballers.
After a hugely disappointing defeat to Meath last Sunday, John Cleary’s side are now facing an uphill battle in the GAA’s secondary competition. They’re away to a Kildare side that rattled Dublin this weekend, before the Dubs travel to the Páirc on February 19. Whatever about promotion from Division 2, which Dublin and Derry are expected to secure, avoiding relegation will be the name of the game if Cork host Limerick on February 26 without any points on the board.
In March, the Rebels are away to Clare and Louth before finishing the campaign at home to Derry on March 26.
The football league is directly tied into the All-Ireland series while progressing to the top tier is a requisite to contending for Sam Maguire. The last Division 2 outfit to land the big prize after the league was Armagh, back in 2002, while in the last 20 years there have been 10 Division 1 league and All-Ireland doubles, including Cork in 2010.
Getting relegated to Division 3 again, after a one-year stint in 2020, would be a devasting blow to Cork football. There’s a decent squad in place, including young players who tasted All-Ireland glory at minor and U20 in 2019, and, in Cleary, a convincing leader.
To be anyway competitive in the summer they’ll have to finish mid-table in Division 2 at a minimum.
After hosting Limerick this weekend, the hurlers have a tricky trip to Galway the following Sunday. Yet if they lose both games they’ve Westmeath in the Páirc on February 26 to recover and there’s no relegation threat in the Division 1A and 1B format.
They host Wexford on Sunday, March 12, before going to Clare seven days later in the last round of the league.
The hurlers haven’t won the league since 1998, losing finals to Kilkenny in 2002 and 2012, Galway in 2010 and Waterford in 2015 and last spring. Though Pat Ryan played 25 years ago, he won’t be targeting a league in his first season.
He simply doesn’t need to.