There’s a lot riding on tomorrow’s trip to Tralee for Cork in terms of the Allianz Football League, but the ramifications don’t extend beyond that, according to selector Eoin O’Neill.
A win would make the semi-finals a possibility for Peadar Healy’s side while the spectre of relegation has yet to be fully eradicated either. Former Rebels defender Colman Corrigan questioned the intensity of the current side during the week but expressed the view that an away win in Austin Stack Park could be the catalyst for a successful season.
For O’Neill, it’s just another game on the way towards championship preparation.
“I wouldn’t see it as a make-or-break game, I wouldn’t see it in that regard,” he says.
“I would see it as a game where this is an opportunity for us to really test ourselves against good opposition. That is the challenge I see in it.
“If we lose this game on Sunday, is it going to break our year? Of course it’s not, it is March. There is a lot of stuff to be done yet, a lot of football still to be played. We are going in there hoping to give a good account of ourselves and see if we can learn a little bit more about our lads. We have tried a lot of things out.
“The Roscommon game aside, we’d be happy enough with what has happened in the league really. I wouldn’t say it is make-or-break, certainly not. It would be great to win it, of course it would. Kerry are flying. It is going to be a tough challenge for us. We are looking forward it.”
Since losing to Dublin and Roscommon early on, Kerry have necklaced four wins together and it would take a huge Cork win, coupled with victory for Donegal over Monaghan, to deny Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s side a place in the last four. But the nature of what lies ahead for Cork leaves O’Neill relishing the prospect.
“Playing Kerry down in Tralee, it doesn’t get much tougher,” he says.
“Especially with the way Kerry have approached the league this year, their league form has been exceptional to be fair to them.
“Compared to other years, they have been very strong in their games, apart from in their first two games when they were probably a bit unlucky against Roscommon. Themselves and Dublin have been the form teams in the league. The lads are looking forward to the challenge on Sunday.
“It is another chance to stress-test our lads under a different kind of pressure. The pressure on Sunday will be a little bit different; you are playing one of the better teams in the country, you are playing them on their home patch.
“We have a lot of new guys and we want to find out a bit more about them so what better way to challenge them.”
A win would see Cork finish with four victories and three losses, responding to three consecutive losses against Donegal, Roscommon and Dublin by overcoming Monaghan and Down. The Roscommon game was the nadir, an 18-point defeat, with improvement shown against Dublin, and O’Neill would like to see the performance curve continue on its upward trajectory.
“Our performance against Dublin was good,” he says.
“Our performance against Monaghan was better, our game against Down was probably a little bit of a drop-off on that. We are improving bit by bit which is what we want to be doing.
“It is just a pity we didn’t get a result against Dublin as I felt we could have got a draw in that game. That is done with, we are looking forward to Sunday now.”
Regardless of the outcome, the focus will continue to be on the Munster semi-final with Tipperary in June. To that end, securing a creditable display is the primary aim, according to O’Neill.
“Consistency is something that has been thrown across the bows of this teams for the past number of years,” he says.
“If we can go out and give a good account of ourselves on Sunday, then that will be four consistent games. That is going down the right track.
“That is what we want to be doing. If we can get that, and if a result did come on the back of that, all the better.
“Getting consistent performances out of this group and getting the lads more comfortable playing with each other is the goal.”
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