It might only be the McGrath Cup, but the Cork footballers, for a variety of reasons, would be best served by ensuring the pre-season silverware is perched at the front of the team bus when it pulls out of Willie Clancy country tomorrow afternoon.
With neither a Munster football championship nor a league title captured since 2012, the sole trophies the Cork footballers have claimed in the last seven years has been the McGrath Cup (2014, ‘16 and ‘18). Given the current state of Cork football, better to have it than not.
And while the relevance of who won (or didn’t win) this competition will be all but lost come championship in May, there is a short-term bounce to be got January success, as John Kiely’s Limerick proved last year when Munster senior hurling league success was followed by promotion from Division 1B.
Since being relegated to Division 2 of the Allianz Football League, Cork have failed to secure victory on the opening weekend of league action in both 2017 and 2018. Their 2019 league opener has them in Enniskillen and you can be sure that task will become all the more pressurised should they leave Miltown-Malbay empty-handed.
Were Clare to be first across the line today, victory would be a significant shot in the arm for Colm Collins’ side ahead of the visit of Donegal in a fortnight. Why should it be any different for Cork, when, as Graham Canty put it midweek, the Rebels can no longer be considered a top-10 football county and are, in reality, a mid-table Division 2 side.
On a simple head-to-head level, Cork won’t want to fall to the Banner for a third consecutive year. Clare’s 2-11 to 0-9 win over Cork in Cusack Park, Ennis in 2017 was their first league success over the Rebels since 1994 and that outcome repeated itself when they renewed acquaintances at Páirc Uí Rinn last March, late points from Jamie Malone and David Tubridy securing a 0-14 to 0-12 win for the visitors. Has it ever been the case that a Clare football team has downed the Rebels three years in-a-row?
And then there’s the Cork 2024 five-year strategy released on Wednesday; its overarching goal being to revive and reinvigorate Cork football at all levels. There won’t be too many Cork supporters making the trip up to Miltown-Malbay today, the same will apply to Enniskillen in a fortnight. No question but there is a need for Cork football to reconnect with supporters, but as former manager Brian Cuthbert said on Wednesday, this is very much a chicken and egg situation.
“We are all involved with our clubs and working very hard there. That consumes people. If Cork football isn’t performing, it’s very easy to put it on the back burner. The beauty of this plan is there is something for everyone. So, if standards improve, there is an obvious knock-on effect for Cork. Cork becomes successful again and people want to get behind it.” With regard to Ronan McCarthy’s charges, victories against Clare and Fermanagh, as opposed to back-to-back defeats, guarantees them a bigger following when Kildare visit Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday, February 3 for their first home fixture of 2019. A few wins and a smidgen of consistency, will see more people row in behind this team.
As McCarthy hinted at last Sunday in Rathkeale, today’s team contains not one player who started the 3-15 to 0-7 thumping of Limerick.
“We are trying to bring new players into the pool we have,” the Cork manager said last weekend. “They’ve trained really well over the pre-season. Let’s throw them in and see can they put their hand up for selection against Fermanagh.” And just as goalkeeper Mark White, Sam Ryan and Stephen Sherlock went from McGrath Cup experiments to league regulars in 2018, it is important that the likes of Paul Walsh (Kanturk), young Damien Gore of Kilmacabea, Tadhg Corkery (Cill na Martra), Nathan Walsh (Douglas) and Newmarket’s Aidan Browne see action beyond Miltown-Malbay and January so as to be given the opportunity to prove themselves at this level.
CORK (McGrath Cup final v Clare): C Kelly (Éire Óg); S Ryan (St Finbarr’s), P Murphy (Bandon), A Browne (Newmarket); L O’Donovan (Clonakilty), T Clancy (Clonakilty), S Cronin (Nemo Rangers); J Fitzpatrick (Carbery Rangers), R O’Toole (Éire Óg); J O’Rourke (Carbery Rangers), E McSweeney (Knocknagree), C Kiely (Ballincollig); M Collins (Castlehaven), P Kelleher (Kilmichael), S Sherlock (St Finbarr’s).
Subs: M White (Clonakilty), K O’Donovan (Nemo Rangers), N Walsh (Douglas), C Dennehy (St Finbarr’s), T Corkery (Cill Na Martra), K Flahive (Douglas), P Walsh (Kanturk), T Clancy (Fermoy), M Taylor (Mallow), D Gore (Kilmacabea), B Murphy (St Vincent’s).