Can Croker be Cork’s natural hunting ground?

Cork manager Ronan McCarthy.

Cork manager Ronan McCarthy, when asked about his players’ unfamiliarity with Croke Park and whether he had any concerns over such, provided a reply straight out of left field, pulling up a Joe Brolly quote from all of 26 years ago.

“It is like when Joe Brolly was interviewed after Derry’s 1993 All-Ireland semi-final win, he was asked how does it feel to be in an All-Ireland final.

His reply was, ‘now that we are there, it is the most natural thing in the world’.

“For some of our fellas, it could be just like that,” said McCarthy.

That certainly has to be the hope from a Cork perspective as the team that will take to the field against the four-in-a-row champions tomorrow evening is severely deficient in Croke Park minutes.

Ronan O’Toole’s late inclusion at midfield, replacing the injured Killian O’Hanlon, brings to six the number of players on the starting team who have never been involved in a senior inter-county fixture, be it league or championship, at Croke Park.

Mark White and Liam O’Donovan were part of the 2016 Cork minor team which contested an All-Ireland quarter-final at GAA HQ, while Sean White graced the hallowed turf in the colours of Clonakilty Community College, with O’Toole doing likewise for Coláiste Choilm Ballincollig, but no member of this quartet, along with corner-back Kevin Flahive and half-back Mattie Taylor, have played top-level football at the ground.

When you narrow it down to championship ball kicked at Croke Park, the figure rises to eight as Rúairí Deane and Luke Connolly have only three league appearances between them where Jones Road is concerned.

You’d not expect Deane to be part of this group such has been his rising graph in recent campaigns and the fact that he made his championship debut back in 2014.

But a torn cruciate kept him out of that year’s All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Mayo, while he did not figure in the fourth round qualifier loss to Donegal in 2016.

Brian Howard should be part of the Dublin team tomorrow and the Raheny half-forward, at present, is probably the least experienced member of Jim Gavin’s starting XV.

And yet, Howard has played in more championship games at Croker during the two and a half years he has been part of the Dublin set-up than any member of Ronan McCarthy’s first 15 — his nine is three more than Mark Collins’ six.

Tomás Clancy, who’ll play his third championship game in the capital this weekend, isn’t the slightest bit worried for Cork’s Croke Park first-timers.

“The lads that have come in have refreshed the whole squad, to be honest.

“The likes of Liam O’Donovan has been absolutely lifting, Mattie Taylor has been unbelievable.

“They are going to bring that the next day.

I’ve no fear of them at all [in Croke Park]. In fairness, they’ve stood up for us and we’ve rode in behind them. They are the ones we are going to follow.

“They are the ones setting the example.”

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