Across the four divisions of the football league, only two counties were handed away fixtures on both weekends of the opening fortnight.
Antrim, having left Thurles empty-handed last Sunday, will venture back down the M1 this weekend as they head to Tullamore for a meeting with Offaly.
Cork, too, are back on the road. Last Sunday’s Salthill assignment had been billed as the tougher of the two journeys facing Peadar Healy’s charges during the first half of February.
Kildare’s 10-point tanking of Meath at Páirc Tailteann, though, has seen that argument well and truly turned on its head.
Management’s desire is to head into the two-week break with at least two points on the board and while the stalemate encounter at Pearse Stadium has them halfway towards achieving said target, anything but victory at Newbridge will put pressure on the Rebels to take maximum points from four of their subsequent five games if promotion is to be achieved.
The mood in the visiting dressing room last Sunday was of obvious disappointment, with Ruairi Deane remarking the group were “fairly devastated” at having squandered a winning position.
Aidan Walsh, though, says it is imperative they enter round two in the correct frame of mind.
“Kildare gave Meath a good beating so that will be a great challenge for us up there in Newbridge. We’ll keep the heads up. We could easily walk out of Pearse Stadium with our heads down and be saying ‘we should have won that, we didn’t do this and we didn’t do that’. We moved the ball well, though, and we created the chances.”
Indeed, they did. Plenty of them, in fact. They didn’t, however, convert enough. Walsh himself was guilty of blowing an eighth-minute goal chance when put through by Conor Dorman.
He expects their sharpness to improve as the spring progresses and applies a similar theory to his own fitness. Last weekend, after all, was his first start in a Cork football shirt since the All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Mayo during the summer of 2014.
“I was delighted to get the start, but the legs were fairly heavy after it. I made a lot of mistakes, but you just have to keep moving forward.
“I was delighted to be out there with the lads again. I’m learning every day again and just trying to do the best for the team.
“It is all about getting games. You could do 1,000m sprints until the cows come home, but when you go out onto the field, it is totally different. You’d be dead there after five or 10 minutes. It is all about getting miles in the legs and keep moving forward.”
The Rebels finished top of Division 1 during Walsh’s last campaign with the footballers and while the landscape has changed dramatically in the interim, he doesn’t buy into talk a spring spent in the second tier will send Cork further back into the pack.
“Every game will be tough. We’ve to go to Kildare, we’ve to go up to Derry. Every team in the league will be very competitive. They said last year when we got relegated it was a big disaster for Cork football. Division 2 is just as competitive. There are some great teams there. Galway, for example, won Connacht last year. Could we have come away from Galway with more? Maybe. Could we have come away with nothing? Definitely. To come away with something is better than nothing.”
He added: “To be successful in this league, you need to have 24, 25 players competing. You need to be able to bring lads on who’ll do just as good a job as the lads who started. Seeing Colm O’Neill, John O’Rourke and Donncha O’Connor coming on gives you a new lease of life. Things are moving along nicely and hopefully, there’ll be a good few weeks and months ahead.”
Getting the basics right, according to Deane, has to be their priority at St Conleth’s Park.
“Fifteen wides isn’t good enough. We just got to work on our kicking and shooting There are going to be no easy games here. We just have to take it one step at a time. If we don’t get the points to go up, it will be disappointing.”
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