Cork footballers: Munster champs Kerry await in tough Sam Maguire group

Kingdom put five goals past Clare in the provincial decider and will now be on Leeside over the June Bank Holiday weekend to face John Cleary's side
Cork footballers: Munster champs Kerry await in tough Sam Maguire group

Brian Hurley of Cork tussles with Jason Foley of Kerry during the McGrath Cup Group A match. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

CORK supporters would have had an extremely busy weekend if the footballers lived up to their billing as favourites to make the Munster final.

Had John Cleary's charges beaten Clare and Limerick they'd have been in Killarney the day after the hurlers served up an Old Firm classic against Tipp. Instead the Banner, deservedly, progressed to the provincial decider where, as expected, the All-Ireland champions retained the Munster crown.

Under the new championship structures, because of Cork's league record, they're into the Sam Maguire Cup round-robin despite losing last month in Ennis. Provincial finals now dictate the seedings for the top-16 group phase, the winners securing top billing and the runners-up in second spot. The third and fourth seeds were based on the league, which left Cork at the bottom rung of the ladder.

Kerry's David Clifford and Cillian Brennan of Clare in action on Sunday afternoon in the Munster final. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Kerry's David Clifford and Cillian Brennan of Clare in action on Sunday afternoon in the Munster final. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

After the draw, Cork were paired with Kerry, Mayo and the Leinster losers, in other words, Louth after next Sunday's clash with Dublin. Every team has a home tie and the Rebels' game happens to be against the Kingdom on the June Bank Holiday Saturday, the Sunday afternoon ruled out due to the Cork City Marathon.

The key match in terms of reaching the 'preliminary quarter-final' will be away to Louth at the end of May. That's almost certainly going to take place on May 27 as the hurlers are in the Gaelic Grounds for the concluding Munster round-robin match with Limerick the next day.

Louth hosted Cork in the league in a dour encounter which Mickey Harte's side won in the wake of a red card for Daniel O'Mahony. They've improved since and will no doubt fancy their chances, regardless of how the Leinster final goes next weekend.

Every county has an outing to a neutral venue as well and Cork v Mayo on June 17-18 will probably be in the Gaelic Grounds or Ennis. They met in a brilliant qualifier on Shannonside in 2017, which finished 0-27 to 2-20 after extra time. Before that, Mayo knocked Cork out in the 2011 and '14 quarter-finals at Croker.

Three high-stakes games, and hopefully a fourth if they get out of the group, are exactly what Cleary and his selectors need as they try to reshape the Rebels and get them comfortable against the market leaders.

The new system is a bit convoluted admittedly. The top counties from each group go straight to the All-Ireland quarter-finals but only one side is actually eliminated as the second and third-placed teams meet in 'preliminary' quarter-finals. It's quite a drawn-out process to turn the, in theory, best 16 counties into an elite eight but it does guarantee supporters more top-level action, with Tailteann Cup following the same system.

Second-placed teams will get home advantage in those preliminary quarter-finals on June 24-25, with the All-Ireland quarter-finals proper the following weekend at neutral venues.

Round 1 (first team at home) May 21-22:

Group 1: Kerry v Mayo.

Group 2: Galway v Tyrone.

Group 3: Sligo v Kildare.

Group 4: Clare v Donegal.

Round 1 (first team at home) May 27- 28:

Group 1: Dublin or Louth (loser) v Cork.

Group 2: Armagh or Derry (loser) v Westmeath.

Group 3: Dublin or Louth (winner) v Roscommon.

Group 4: Armagh or Derry v Monaghan (winner).

Round 2 (first team at home) June 3-4:

Group 1: Mayo v Dublin or Louth (loser); Cork v Kerry.

Group 2: Tyrone v Armagh or Derry (loser); Westmeath v Galway.

Group 3: Roscommon v Sligo; Kildare v Dublin or Louth (winner).

Group 4: Monaghan v Clare; Donegal v Armagh or Derry (winner).

Round 3 (neutral venues) June 17-18:

Group 1: Kerry v Dublin or Louth (loser); Mayo v Cork.

Group 2: Galway v Armagh or Derry (loser); Tyrone v Westmeath.

Group 3: Dublin or Louth (winner) v Sligo; Roscommon v Kildare.

Group 4: Armagh or Derry (winner) v Clare; Monaghan v Donegal.

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