The constant barrage of criticism the Cork footballers have been subjected to in 2017 has been justified, according to Mark Collins.
Relegation from Division 1 of the Allianz league and a first championship defeat to Tipperary since 1944 saw Peadar Healy’s charges come under intense fire in 2016 and their failure to make any impression in Division 2 this spring consolidated public disapproval of the team within the county.
Cork forward Collins says the team left themselves open to criticism having turned in some “shocking” performances during this year’s league.
And while selector Eoin O’Neill and Collins’ Castlehaven teammate Brian Hurley are both on the record in claiming the knocking of this Cork team has, on occasions, gone over the top, the 27-year old believes the detractors have had good reason to give out.
“The criticism is fair,” he remarked.
“We’ve probably had some shocking performances over the year. No one knows better than ourselves that we have disappointed.
“After those defeats to Kildare and Clare in this year’s league, no one was more disappointed than ourselves. Obviously, the public is going to be disappointed as well. When the criticism is justified, you can’t do much about it. You can just put the head down and work away.”
But despite regular condemnation, Collins stressed the panel is, mentally, in a strong place heading into championship.
“I think we are still a mentally strong group. We are a very close group. It might be strange to look in from the outside and say, ‘how are they still positive’. We’ve put in big performances after poor performances.
"The Derry performance in the league is an example of that because we were under pressure going up there. We were staring down the barrel of relegation going up there and we managed to get a positive result.
“When we were under pressure last year after a bad Munster semi-final defeat to Tipp, we put in a performance against Longford and the Donegal game in the last 12, even though we didn’t get the win against Donegal. We showed the potential that we have against Donegal.
“Hopefully, if we could get a few results, there is still plenty of potential in this group that we could push on to bigger things. Fellas are in good form inside in the camp so we are really looking forward to the championship this year. Hopefully, we can cause a few surprises. I don’t think we are that far away from getting that big performance.”
To do so, however, they’ll need to bring more than a sprinkle of consistency to their play, a consistency that has been sorely lacking from their league and championship performances during the past two seasons.
“We’ve proved we can mix it with the big teams. In the national league last year, we put it up to Dublin. It is these defeats when we think that we are after turning the corner that is letting us down. The main thing going into the championship is to try and get a bit of consistency.
“We had three draws during the league which easily could have been three victories and led to us, possibly, making the league final. Colm [O’Neill] had a free against Galway with time up that would have won the game.
"I’d a free against Meath to put us two up heading into injury-time. They were two matches we definitely should have won.
“In the Down game, we were leading going into injury time and we should have seen it out. It does get on your back a bit that you should be seeing these games out.”
First up for the Rebels in the Munster championship is a meeting with Waterford on May 27. They’ve plenty to motivate them ahead of that trip to Dungarvan.
“A rematch with Tipperary in Páirc Uí Rinn is something to really look forward to were we to get over Waterford. After last year’s defeat which was such a big disappointment, it would be something to look forward to. To be involved in the first Munster final at the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh is a big incentive.”
He added: “With the way things have gone with us, you can’t take anyone for granted. We know if we take Waterford for granted or are complacent going down to Dungarvan that anything can happen.
"We’ll stay focused and hopefully, we can put in a good performance down there. From 2010, there is only a handful of players left. It would be nice if we could get one big performance as a group together that could really kick us on.”
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