CORK could hardly say they have been ‘tested’ by either Cavan or Wexford in recent weeks by Colm O’Neill believes their unwanted trip through the qualifiers may still be of value to Conor Counihan and his side.
Since losing their Munster semi-final replay to Kerry, the Rebels swept past Tommy Carr’s former charges with 18 points to spare and they had the buffer of a seven-point gap in Wexford Park last weekend.
Much was made of the possible benefits to Cork of the backdoor route, even prior to the summer, but those two outings were hardly ideal for a side that is supposedly still tweaking its way towards its best 15.
“From the start of the year it wouldn’t have been our preferred route anyway,” said O’Neill. “A change of scenery ... every year you’re nearly playing Kerry and then a break for four or five weeks. This year now it’s week on week.
“It can be tough but last Sunday just shows there’s good heart in the team. It wasn’t a day for fancy football, it was just grit and determination. We came out with the win and I think that’ll stand to us in the long run.”
How long that road is remains to be seen, even if Cork are still being routinely mentioned as inhabitants of football’s top tier – with only Kerry and Tyrone as near neighbours.
On paper and recent form, Limerick should provide a far stiffer examination of their All-Ireland credentials but it remains to be seen if Mickey Ned O’Sullivan’s men have put their Munster final defeat behind them. If they have, then Cork will require their A-game against a county that can be considered unfortunate not to have taken the scalp of at least one of Munster’s big two over the course of the last two summers.
O’Neill warned: “They’ll be in their home place and will have the crowd behind them. We know all about Limerick. They nearly beat us last year in the Munster final and, as everyone knows against Kerry, they put up a hell of a battle and could have went away with the win.”
In retrospect, Cork could have done without their county board’s agreement to toss a coin for a home venue rather than a neutral one after the draw paired them together last Sunday. Whatever the outcome, O’Neill isn’t biting on that decision.
“I don’t really know the full story behind that. We’re going to go down there and it’s going to be two to one Limerick supporters probably. We’ve got to be ready for a hell of a battle.”
No-one in Cork will need any reminding of just how prickly a proposition Limerick could prove, not after their most recent championship meetings. Two late goals somehow scratched victory out of a defeat for the Rebels on their last visit to the Gaelic Grounds in 2008 and only three points separated the pair 12 months ago in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
O’Neill remembers that last meeting well having come on as a second-half substitute, played a vital role in Daniel Goulding’s equalising goal and scored a point. “We got a couple of late scores last year to come through in the end,’’ he recalled. “They were probably on top for 50 minutes of the game. I came on and a high ball came in. It broke, I think off me, and fell to Daniel and he did what he does best and buried it. I think we were two points behind at that stage. I’d say if we didn’t get that goal we wouldn’t have won.”
It got better for O’Neill as the summer wore on. The highlight was undoubtedly his early goal in the All-Ireland final against Kerry but the low point wasn’t far behind and consumed the remainder of the afternoon. The current season was slow to pick up thanks to a hamstring injury that stretched through most of the league campaign but he has found his way back into the starting 15 since the first outing in the qualifiers.
The voyage of self-discovery continues tomorrow.
For player and county.
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