The bullish chap that he is, Seán Powter has no hesitation in proclaiming that promotion from Division 2 is the short-term goal for Cork footballers this year.
He mentions the All-Ireland quarter-final stages, too, but he understands for now at least that they have to bank on youth.
Firstly, there’s the fact Powter’s Douglas club-mate Eoin Cadogan has switched to the hurlers.
“Obviously, he had personal reasons and wanted to play with Alan so you can’t really hold it against him,” accepts Powter.
Michael Shields’ retirement last week also robs manager Ronan McCarthy of another All-Ireland winning defender as does Alan O’Connor’s departure of a proven midfielder.
Cork will also be without the likes of Luke Connolly, Paul Kerrigan and Barry O’Driscoll for at least the opening three rounds of the league, as Nemo Rangers shape up to face Slaughtneil on February 24 in the All-Ireland club semi-final.
Aidan Walsh could also be missing early on if Kanturk’s hurlers advance in the All-Ireland intermediate club competition next weekend, while James Loughrey is carrying an ankle injury and veteran forward Donncha O’Connor is considering his future. All things considered, Cork could be missing more than a third of the team that gave Mayo such a scare, forcing them to extra-time in their fourth round qualifier in Limerick, and three of those who were introduced that day in the Gaelic Grounds.
McCarthy recently spoke about how that game has created a new air of optimism around Cork football, but at least for now Powter agrees the coming weeks “are a bit of a transition”.
Performances, though, will be expected.
“We didn’t really give supporters a lot to support us about last year, so I can’t really see a big support at the start, but as long as we just try our best and show a bit of heart, I think people will follow us. People usually follow teams that are going well, so hopefully we can get them behind us. The first game against Tipperary is the goal all year. Get a win under our belt and see how the season goes after that. Last year didn’t go to plan, we probably should have beaten Galway up in Galway and then it just fell apart with Kildare, where they just steamrolled us.”
Young footballer of the year nominee Powter was electric against Kerry and Mayo, his runs in the latter game integral to Cork’s ability to stick with the would-be All-Ireland runners-up.
“I just went for the game. Some people go in a bit tame and afraid, but I went for it and said it was our only chance, it was do or die. Things went to plan, but not the result. It (the performance) gives us hope, but it was also quite annoying knowing how good you can be and then the two weeks before you play horrendously against Kerry and don’t even show up. It was annoying in that sense, but we’re optimistic for this year.
“It was quite annoying seeing Mayo reach the All-Ireland final thinking, ‘We probably should have beaten them that day.’ We know we weren’t really... we didn’t have the final thing there to push on and win it, so that would be the main goal this year,” said Powter, whose debut senior season opened his eyes to how the flak can fly at a team under-performing.
“We did take a lot of criticism, last year especially, but most of it was deserved. You can’t really go out and perform like that against Kerry and not expect a backlash.”
He feels the lack of consistency last year was down to belief.
“I think it’s a mindset, really. You’ve got to take every team as if they’re a Dublin or a Mayo. That’s what we did when we got to the All-Ireland U21 [in 2016]. We thought Clare and Waterford were the best teams in Munster, so we played them like they were the best teams in Munster. It’s a mindset for each game.
“When I go into every game, I believe we’re going to win, no matter who we’re playing, so I just hope we bring that same mindset this year and we give Tipperary first a good battle.”
There are more Division 2 rivals, such as Clare — straight ahead in this Saturday’s McGrath Cup final in Mallow — a team Cork won’t be disregarding after losing to them in Ennis last March.
“They beat us in the league last year, so we won’t be taking them lightly, like we did last year.”
The change from U21 to U20 means Powter, 21 in July, misses out on what would be the final year of under-age football at inter-county level. He finds it disappointing in one sense, but it means he can focus more time on Douglas, UCC and Cork’s seniors.
He wouldn’t mind receiving another International Rules call-up later in the year, but believes competition for places will be fiercer if Dublin players are available.
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