Cork forward Mark Collins has welcomed the return of Ronan McCarthy as coach with the Rebel senior footballers.
“We were disappointed to lose Ronan last year but we knew that with work commitments and college and everything, he had a lot going on.
“We’re absolutely delighted to have him back because everyone got on fierce well with him and respected him. The training and stuff that he did with us was excellent so it’s a massive advantage to have him back.”
The good start has helped — two wins and a narrow defeat the last day against Donegal.
“We’d take positives from the first three games,” Collins agreed.
“We’ve had two trips up north and performed reasonably well. Okay, we were under a bit of pressure on Sunday before Michael Murphy was sent off but we finished strongly again and showed a nice bit of heart.
“We know we’ve a lot of work to do and Kerry will be another bit along the learning curve again. After we beat them in Tralee last year, people were saying Kerry were finished but they went on to be All-Ireland champions.
“We know it’s very early to be reading into any of these games but still, Sunday is a local derby, you want to do anything to win it.”
The West Cork man describes the game as a “massive test” but also admits that Kerry are unlikely to show their hand too much: “We know that we’ll be up against it, Kerry are All-Ireland champions, they’ve started well in the league and brought a few players back. They’re playing with confidence and probably will be favourites for the All-Ireland, so we know that it’s a massive test.
“It’s is an important game in terms of the league because, with the campaign we were dealt this year, four games away up north, the home games are vital if you want to stay in Division 1.
“In that case, Sunday is vital, if you get the win you’ve six points and you’re probably safe. Maybe you’ll see a small bit of what Kerry will throw at you but they probably won’t give a whole lot away.
“It’ll probably be the same with ourselves, you can’t really read a whole pile into it come championship.”
Which doesn’t mean a team learns nothing in the league. Collins says Cork have collected a couple of lessons in the last 12 months by comparing spring and summer.
“Everything went well for us (last year) bar the Dublin game in the semi-final. We were on a high, playing free-flowing football.
“Come championship, we probably realised that that’s not the way with football anymore, everything team is nearly gone defensive now, including Kerry, who would have been one of the main attacking teams of the last 10 years.
“You have to realise that you have to set up a bit stronger at the back, maybe it took last year for us to learn that.
“We’re trying to learn as it goes along. Obviously, we know that we’ve a long way to go yet.”
Collins’ own job description, as a working half-forward, is a case in point.
“Around the middle eight everybody’s very similar, you all have to get back and go forward. If you’re in any of those positions, you’ve a similar enough job. A few years ago, you’d never have expected to be playing midfield at inter-county level, but, the way things have gone, the game has changed a lot.
“There’s not so much of kicking the ball out long so you might be able to get away with it a bit more these days.”
It isn’t so long ago Cork had plenty of size in the middle of the field.
“We were only talking about that recently,” said Collins. “We had a lot of six-foot-three, six-foot-four fellas who’ve retired over the past two or three season.
“Cork used to be known as the physical team who’d battering-ram everyone, whereas it’s nearly the opposite now. We definitely have to adapt to that, it might take a bit of time but hopefully we’ll get used to it.”
And to each other. Those trips north for this year’s league are bonding the team, he says.
“Maybe it took a bit of a while for the lads to get to know one another, we hadn’t played together a lot.
“With the trips up north, you’re getting to know one another and the bond is getting better and better as you go along. I think you can see that in matches too, we’re finishing strongly so you can see there’s a good camaraderie there and things are going well.
“We’re definitely becoming closer as a group. You’re spending your whole weekend together, you’re going up at 10am Saturday morning and you mightn’t be back until 10pm on Sunday night.
“We’re getting on fierce well as a group together, which is a big advantage come championship. You’ll pull together more and it’s something similar to a club team, with the time we’re spending together. It’s definitely an advantage.”
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