Mick Slocum: Cork are at a crossroads

Former Cork footballer Mick Slocum has warned of a massive backlash if Brian Cuthbert’s charges exit the All-Ireland championship this weekend.

Mick Slocum: Cork are at a crossroads

Defeat to Kerry in last Saturday’s Munster SFC replay returned the Rebels down the backroads for a third consecutive summer and Slocum is fearful of the repercussions were Cork to suffer a second consecutive championship loss in the space of eight-days.

Such are the fine margins at this stage of the championship, he added, that Cork’s summer “could just as easily take flight” if their fourth round qualifier opponents, Kildare, are conquered.

“The lines are so thin in the GAA. If Cork were to win this weekend, they’d be looking at an All-Ireland quarter-final on the August Bank Holiday weekend and all of a sudden the summer has opened up for them again,” said the 1990 All-Ireland winning half-back.

“If they were to lose, however, there would be more of the criticism that was levelled against the team following the Dublin league defeats, this year and last, and that big Munster final defeat to Kerry.

“To lose two weeks in a row would be disastrous.”

Slocum continued: “If they can get over Kildare, they could have a right crack of Dublin. No one would give them a chance so there’d be no pressure. And I for one don’t buy into this notion that Dublin are a shoo-in for the All-Ireland.

“If they get over Cork, they have to play either Mayo or Donegal and then Kerry in the final. There is a long road to be travelled before a Dublin player is climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand.”

It is far from Leeside arrogance that lends itself to talk of a quarter-final clash against Dublin, but rather tradition. Cork and Kildare have crossed swords on only four occasions in the championship, and with the Rebels emerging unscathed in the three most recent meetings (2012, 2008 and 1956), Slocum insists Cork simply won’t fear Jason Ryan’s men.

“They won’t hold any fear of them. Cork have never feared Kildare. They can’t afford to be complacent either, though.”

Indeed, he believes Cork’s biggest threat are themselves. Picking themselves off the floor post-Killarney and readying themselves mentally for Saturday evening represents an arduous task.

“The big challenge is the one-week turnaround. If you had two or three weeks to prepare for this fixture it would be grand. Given they came so close to winning the Munster final the first day... and there was a good bit of disappointment because they were so close to winning so they had to pick themselves up for the replay. They did that, but when you are beaten and you have only a week to turn it around, mentally that is fierce tough for any team.

“This team has got a lot of grief over the last couple of years, particularly for the two defeats to Dublin in the league and last year’s Munster final defeat to Kerry. That would have been a huge thing for Cork to beat Kerry this year.

“I imagine too it was deflating that they didn’t secured the preferred route through the front door.

“Take Donegal, they have been in two of the last three All-Ireland finals. Going through the front door or backdoor makes no difference to them. They’ll pick themselves up after Sunday’s defeat because Ulster wasn’t their primary goal. Cork, on the other hand, could have really done with winning Munster and going through the front door. They didn’t. Let’s see how they respond.”

Meanwhile, Kildare full-back Mick O’Grady says confidence in the camp has been boosted by their backdoor march. A horrendous Leinster semi-final defeat to Dublin by 5-18 to 0-14 meant Jason Ryan’s side were near rock bottom as they faced the qualifiers. A slender win over Offaly and the highly impressive victory over Longford that followed, however, has given a renewed sense of positivity to the squad, according to Celbridge defender.

“It is a massive boost,” noted O’Grady. “Losing to Dublin like that, we knew we let ourselves down on the day. Obviously they were the better team, but everyone in this group knows that we had a lot more to offer. We just didn’t do it on the day.

“It was important to get the win against Offaly, that was a tough game and again we knew that Longford were going to be good opposition. Games just seem to be coming week after week, but we’re happy that we are building now.”

Niall Kelly and Tommy Moolick have made their returns to the starting XV during the county’s qualifier run and O’Grady has been impressed by the duo, as well as debutant against Longford, Mark Sherry.

“Tommy offers massive aerial threat there and he has got a good engine to get up and down the pitch. Niall is a serious play-maker. He is a great footballer. The lads have definitely made a big impact. Then Mark Sherry has come on too and he was a revelation. It is one of the best displays I have seen in a long time from a Kildare player, he was fantastic.”

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