A fortress? Hardly. Still, enough teams have left Pearse Park over the years with their summer in ruins to have the Cork footballers forewarned for their meeting with Longford this afternoon.
Just ask the Down class of 2002, the Derry teams of 2006 and ‘12, or, indeed, Pearse Park’s most famous victims – Mayo’s 2010 crop; Paul Kelly’s galvanising goal, Keith Higgins’ sending off and John O’Mahony’s resignation the various sub-plots in a never to be forgotten June evening in Longford town.
And then there were the close shaves, the near-misses; the 2006 Leinster championship quarter-final against Dublin (1-12 to 0-13), the 2009 second round qualifier against Kerry (1-12 to 0-11) or the visit of Tyrone (0-17 to 0-15) two years later at the same stage.
So while their recent Leinster championship record is a mish-mash of the decent, the not so decent and the downright deplorable, Denis Connerton’s side will draw confidence from the county’s tidy catalogue of giant-killing efforts, successful or otherwise, on home soil.
Oh, and of course there’s last Saturday’s victory above in Clones too.
The Tipperary footballers, when scoring a first championship win over Cork in 72-years, must have been pretty confident that ‘shock of the summer’ was a title they’d wear pretty much unchallenged for the next couple of months.
Along came Galway a week later to steal their thunder. Neither, mind you, held a candle to what materialised last Saturday afternoon – Robbie Smyth’s second-half goal drawing the curtain on Monaghan’s championship involvement.
Well-guarded, and then some, are the Cork footballers on their journey into the midlands.
“Both teams are coming into this off the back of second round victories, but I suppose you could say greater momentum is with Longford given where they went and who they took down,” admitted Cork selector Eoin O’Neill.
“They’ve beaten two Division 1 teams. They beat Down and the current Ulster champions. Anybody that can go up to those places in Ulster and get those results is a team you have to take very, very seriously.
“This is a very tough draw because if you’re looking for a team with form, Longford are a team with form. Playing away from home is always a challenge. They have taken a lot of scalps over the years so they’re not coming from out of the blue. Anybody who has seen them will know they are a team that likes to cause you trouble. We’ve been working this week in terms of getting ready for that. We need to go up there and be ready for the challenge.”
He added: “The fact that they have brought it to Pearse Park, they clearly want to get us into their own backyard so that makes it even tougher.”
On the latter point, the general consensus was that if Longford had drawn either Kildare or Mayo at home, the fixture would have had to be played elsewhere given large sections of the ground are currently closed off for various health and safety reasons. That officials are confident the 4,500 capacity venue will be able to house the third round qualifier speaks volumes of Cork’s poor support on the road.
“We have to stay on task as we have no control over the crowd,” continued O’Neill.
“We’d love support to come behind us on Saturday. Cork, traditionally, haven’t had a huge travelling support in football. That is just the reality of it.
“If some Cork people did make the long trip, and we accept it is a long trip up, we’d be very appreciative.”
Irrespective of who travels, the team itself will travel with confidence partially restored following last weekend’s win over Limerick. It was, after all, their first competitive win since the sixth round league victory at home to Down on March 27. That’s 19-weeks waiting for a positive result.
“There was pressure on us last Saturday. There is no point in saying otherwise. We had had a very tough couple of weeks. We got a lot of criticism following the Tipp game and on top of the criticism we got externally, we were very critical ourselves. Nobody was happy with the performance we put up against Tipperary. Everybody was very disappointed. Last Saturday was a situation where our year hung in the balance. We needed to get back up on the horse, we needed to go again. I thought the lads acquitted themselves well. Maybe, the quality wasn’t where it needed to be in terms of our finishing and things like that, but we went out there and we set our stall out very early. Fellas showed great appetite and I’m just delighted for the lads that they did that. Getting them to express themselves and getting that onto the field has been hard to achieve a couple of times. I’m glad they did that on Saturday.
“Everyone enjoys this time of year. If you can get a couple of wins in quick succession, it can give you confidence, it can help build your spirit. As long as we’re not overly fatigued, you get out there and get on with it. We’re looking forward to driving on and trying to get another win.”
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