CORK football manager Conor Counihan hopes a stern test from Monaghan on Sunday can, in part, make up for a Division Two campaign that didn’t always stretch his troops.
Draws against Kildare and Fermanagh, as well as a seven-point loss to their weekend opponents, attest to the fact that it wasn’t a completely devalued spring campaign but other contests left much to be desired.
Meath, Laois and Armagh were all seen off with nine points to spare, while Wexford were 12 points adrift when Cork faced them at home late last month, so Sunday’s Division Two final is a welcome bonus.
Said Counihan: “The more often you go out and are tested, the better it is. Some of those games we would have won reasonably comfortably so we didn’t find out a lot about ourselves.
“This is a serious plus because, had we not qualified for this, there would have been a serious gap to the 24th of May. Challenge games don’t make up for this type of affair.”
It will be a curious affair in one sense: two teams playing under a set of rules that will be dumped unceremoniously once Kerry and Derry’s Division One decider is settled a few hours later.
How do players approach it?
More importantly, how will the referee officiate it? To the letter of the soon-to-be-discarded law or with one eye on the summer?
Counihan doesn’t feel the players will be holding back either way.
“I don’t know were fellas that wary anyway, particularly now when it comes to a final. The reality of those rules is that you could nearly be more comfortable because the worst that could happen is that you would be replaced. When we go back to the old rules, when you are over aggressive and make a mistake, you could get the ultimate sanction and you would only be hurting your own team then.”
The canvas will be very different for this latest meeting between the teams. Monaghan’s win in the group stage came at Scotstown, a tight venue, but Counihan didn’t try to hide behind that when reliving the defeat yesterday.
“On the day, we were beaten emphatically. We wouldn’t have a whole pile of excuses for it. We just went back and regrouped for the Armagh match and played much better. Sunday is a different ball game altogether.”
It promises to be a searching examination of Cork’s credentials. Monaghan have racked up more scores than every county except for three sides in Division Four who had London and Kilkenny to use for target practice.
Seamus McEnaney has been at the helm with the Ulster side for five years and has been consistent in his belief that the county is but a fingertip away from claiming a first provincial title since the 1980s.
Cork too are seen by many as a coming force but they have been floating members of the top table for most of the decade now without ever nailing down full membership.
Dublin have worn the unwanted tag of being Gaelic football’s nearly men for a number of seasons now but Cork are in danger of assuming that mantle if they cannot convert their undoubted potential into something a little more concrete.
How important, then, is this summer?
Counihan admitted: “It is very important. In life, and at this level, you only get so many opportunities. Getting to semi-finals is great but there is a time when you have to make a final push and you have got to take every year as that year because you don’t know what could happen in 12 months.”
They should certainly be better prepared this year than last, when Counihan only attained the manager’s brief in February after the dispute that engulfed the panel, Teddy Holland and the county board.
“You would like to think that you have moved forward but the real test of that will be the championship. I suppose Sunday is a test too, to a certain extent, but championship is the ultimate.”
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