No relaxing for Rebels

Allianz FL Division 1: Tyrone v Cork
Cork attacker Colm O’Neill has dismissed notions that the county have not prioritised this year’s Allianz Football League Division 1 campaign and are instead doing just enough to avoid relegation.

Defeats to Dublin and Kildare in their opening two games put a dent in Cork’s hopes of winning what would be a fourth successive Division 1 title, and a fifth in all after the Division 2 win of 2008.

Ciarán Sheehan’s late goal against Down last week was crucial in claiming a first win, but, ahead of tomorrow’s game away to Tyrone, O’Neill denies Cork are doing the bare minimum to keep ticking over. “If we start picking and choosing what games you’re going to try and win, you could find yourself in relegation trouble very quickly,” he said.

“It’s a very tight competition, so last Sunday’s two points were hugely important, and if we can get another win this weekend we could start thinking about making the knockout stages.”

A feature O’Neill has found noticeable in Cork’s games to date is opponents are employing systems which rely heavily on big numbers in defence coupled with quick counter-attacks, similar to that employed by Donegal in winning last year’s All-Ireland title.

While the forward finds it a difficult challenge, exposure to it now will allow Cork to formulate ways to deal with it come the summer, when he expects to see more of it.

“It’s one thing I’ve found a bit different from last year,” he said.

“With Donegal winning the All-Ireland, most teams have gone a bit more defensive, they’re trying to take something from what Donegal did. “We’ll see plenty of it later on in the championship I’m sure, so it’s good to be playing against that style at this time of year too.”

As always, no matter what the league holds, the focus is on championship and a Munster quarter-final with Limerick on May 25. While admitting that Cork’s training is tailored towards the summer, O’Neill does not feel it is a factor in league performances, as other counties are in a similar situation.

“We are training hard to be honest this year, but I suppose so is every team,” he said.

“You can’t take any game for granted this year, because the top eight teams in the country are in Division 1 and every game is very important, every game is played at near championship pace. You want to build momentum, obviously keep our place in Division 1, and maybe make the semi-finals if we can.”

Cork’s hopes of reaching the last four were increased by the win last week, and tomorrow they face another trip to Ulster for a first clash with Tyrone since 2010.

O’Neill hopes now his bad luck with injuries in the past, including damaging his cruciate ligament twice, is behind him and that, fully fit, he can help Cork to continue the upward surge in form.

“All that mattered was we got the two points on board and hopefully we can build on that,” he said. “Last year I was only coming back from injury, but it’s all about getting games under your belt at this time of year. Tyrone will be a difficult place to get a win but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”


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