JUST one final piece of the jigsaw remains to complete the identities of Cork’s opponents in Group 1 of the new All-Ireland SFC format.
That will be determined by the outcome of the Leinster final between Dublin and Louth at Croke Park on Sunday with John Cleary’s side taking on the losers in their opening game of three.
That’s pencilled for the last weekend of the month and it will either be in Ardee if it’s Louth or Croker if Dublin end up shock losing finalists in a province they’ve dominated for the last dozen years.
What is confirmed is All-Ireland champions Kerry visiting Pairc Ui Chaoimh over the Bank Holiday weekend on June 3-4 after they trimmed Clare by five goals in the Munster final in Limerick.
But the Kingdom’s 84th title in front of an attendance of just shy of 12,500 was obviously overshadowed by the death on Saturday of the mother of David and Paudie Clifford, who still played and contributed 2-6 and 1-0 between them respectively.
Manager Jack O’Connor’s detailed how it was the Clifford family’s wishes that David, the team captain, and Paudie would line-out.
“When I talked to them, they were adamant that they had discussed it as a family and the extended family. The decision was they wanted to play and we certainly weren’t going to stand in their way,” he said.
Cork’s final group game will be against Mayo at a neutral venue on June 17-18 after which three of the four counties will advance to the knock-out phase.
Kerry, who play Mayo in Killarney on Saturday week, sent out a strong signal that they will take some dislodging as Sam Maguire Cup holders by scoring three first-half goals to effectively end the tie as a contest, heading to the dressing room 3-8 to 0-7 in front.
The gap in class between the number 1 team in the country and a side in Division 3 next season was all too apparent with Kerry’s speed, skill and overall play on a different stratosphere to the Banner County and, indeed, probably most counties. Clare face Donegal in Ennis the same afternoon.
The pattern had started to develop earlier in the day when Galway also retained their provincial crown with a crushing 2-20 to 0-12 win over Division 4 champions Sligo in the Connacht final.
Again, Galway had the game wrapped up at the interval, sweeping 2-7 to 0-5 ahead after playing into the teeth of a strong wind.
Galway’s 2-20 tally was eye-catching in that star forward Shane Walsh contributed a couple of frees and was replaced early in the second-half.
Still, Matthew Tierney’s 2-7, one of nine scorers, showed why last season’s beaten All-Ireland finalists are not overly dependent on Walsh for scores. Galway begin with a home tie against Tyrone and Sligo host Kildare.
All-Ireland SFC Groups: Group 1: Kerry, loser Dublin/Louth, Mayo, Cork.
Group 2: Galway, loser Derry/Armagh, Tyrone, Westmeath.
Group 3: Winner Dublin/Louth, Sligo, Roscommon, Kildare.
Group 4: Winner Derry/Armagh, Clare, Monaghan, Donegal.
Fixtures: Round 1: May 20: Group 1: Kerry v Mayo, Fitzgerald Stadium, 3pm. Group 2. Galway v Tyrone, Pearse Stadium, 5.15. Group 4. Clare v Donegal, Cusack Park, 2pm.
May 21: Group 3: Sligo v Kildare, Markievicz Park, 2.30.
May 27-28: Group 1. Loser Dublin/Louth v Cork. Group 2. Loser Derry/Armagh v Westmeath. Group 3. Winner Dublin/Louth v Roscommon. Group 4. Winner Derry/Armagh v Monaghan.
Round 2: June 3-4: Group 1: Mayo v loser Dublin/Louth; Cork v Kerry. Group 2. Tyrone v loser Derry/Armagh; Westmeath v Galway. Group 3. Roscommon v Sligo; Kildare v winner Dublin/Louth. Group 4. Monaghan v Clare; Donegal v winner Derry/Armagh.
Round 3: June 17-18: Group 1. Kerry v loser Dublin/Louth; Mayo v Cork. Group 2. Galway v loser Derry/Armagh; Tyrone v Westmeath. Group 3. Winner Dublin/Louth v Sligo; Roscommon v Kildare. Group 4. Winner Derry/Armagh v Clare; Monaghan v Donegal.