Former Cork star Joe Kavanagh believes ensuring the county are in contention for the All-Ireland Super Eight series is more important than promotion to Division 1 of the Allianz League.
On Saturday, Cork lost their opening league game to Tipperary in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Should Tipp beat Waterford in the Munster quarter-final, the counties would clash again at the provincial semi-final stage.
Were the winners of that game to lose the Munster final, they would need to win just one qualifier round to reach the new All-Ireland last eight.
Kavanagh feels that, by the end of the league, Cork’s objective must be to make an impression come championship.
“If you’re going to be playing in Division 2 again next year, it won’t matter as much as if you get to July and you’re not facing into the Super Eights,” he says.
“It’s about having 22 or 23 players capable of coping with the Super Eights rather than messing around now with fellas and not knowing.
“Get rid of any fella who is nowhere near intercounty standard. Tipp, for example, probably have 21 or 22 guys and it’s probably better, they know what they have and they can be coached.
"Cork probably have 40 fellas in and around the panel, but it’s not as clear who the top 26 are.”
Cork fielded six league debutants on Saturday, whereas Tipp had a more seasoned side.
The difference in experience was a factor in Cork allowing Tipp to score an unanswered 2-4 during the second half with the visitors winning by six points having trailed by three soon after half-time.
“Definitely,” Kavanagh says, “and, as well, they might have pushed on when they were a few points up if they had more experience.
“They have to go with what they have and to blood all of these guys. It was an experience for those guys who were out on the pitch on Saturday night and it should stand to them.
"The only other consolation is that there have been a few draws in the league [Clare drew with Cavan while Meath tied with Roscommon], so they haven’t lost too much ground.”
Next up for Cork is a trip to Páirc Esler on Sunday to take on Down. A win would be a boost, but Kavanagh accepts that the league campaign will be an educational one.
“And it’s what they probably need, especially with a new manager and all that,” he says.
“We’ve seen it before, Cork have gone up before and got massive results in Derry and these places and then flip-flopped completely at home and dropped points. The whole league will probably be a learning curve for them.
“Obviously, you’d like to see them get out of Division 2, that’s what their aim is and it can still be done, but until they get our guys [the Nemo Rangers contingent] back, they’re not going to be anywhere near full-strength.
“Obviously you’re hoping that won’t be until after St Patrick’s Day, but the league is as good as over by that stage. If they don’t have those players, use the ones that are there and see if they’re up to it or not. If they’re not, then good luck and good night.”
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