Photo: The 42
Okay, it’s definitely time to start thinking ahead to our next all-or-nothing test in this year’s championship. This one comes in the form of a Round 4A qualifier tie against Cork at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick on Saturday week (22nd July) where throw-in has been fixed for 5pm.
Every match is a big one for us at this time of year. This next one, though, has added significance as victory in it will hand us our ticket back to the All-Ireland Series for what would be the seventh successive year.
Standing in our way are Cork. As somebody on here said the other day, they’re undoubtedly the toughest opposition we’ve ever come across in the qualifiers. Despite their fall down the rankings in recent years, Cork remain part of the GAA’s football aristocracy. They were All-Ireland champions as recently as 2010 and triple NFL Division One winners in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
In the pre-Horan era, Cork were always a team we couldn’t handle in the championship. They beat us in the 1989 All-Ireland final – a match that was well within our capabilities of winning – and then whipped us mercilessly in the 1993 semi-final. They beat us again in the penultimate round in 1999 and beat us too in the quarter-final, after our first successful negotiation of the back door route, in 2002.
That whole narrative changed, however, in 2011. Going into that All-Ireland quarter-final with the then reigning champions, we’d only championship win against them under our belt and that had taken place as far back as 1916.
Few gave us any hope of victory that day, with Joe Brolly famously dismissing our chances by sneering that Cork would wipe the floor with us. We upset the 4/1 match odds on us, however, by claiming a win that announced the arrival onto the national scene of James Horan’s New Model Mayo.
They then beat us in a bad-tempered League final the following April and we had a few other spiky enough League encounters with them before once more locking horns in the championship at the quarter-final stage, this time in 2014. This meeting was a far closer one and we were fortunate enough to come away from it with a one-point win.
Our most recent meeting with them certainly wasn’t a memorable one from our perspective. It was the first competitive match of the Stephen Rochford era – as it was for Cork manager Peadar Healy – and on that final day in January last year at Páirc Uí Rinn we were a complete shambles.
They beat us out the gate in that one but when that League campaign finished up we were retained our place in the top tier while they were relegated, on points difference, to Division Two. Life can be strange sometimes.
That unexpected demotion seemed to send the Rebels into a bit of a tailspin last year. Tipperary stunned them in the Munster semi-final, recording their first win over Cork in the championship for 72 years when they met in Thurles in mid-June.
The qualifiers brought a small bit of redemption, though, for Peadar Healy’s battered charges. They beat Limerick, back at Semple Stadium, in Round 2 by 2-12 to 0-9 and then accounted for Longford at Pearse Park in Round 3 by 2-9 to 1-6. Their run ended in Round 4, however, when they lost to Donegal at Croke Park in Round 4 on a scoreline of 0-21 to 1-15.
Some of you will, no doubt, recall that one as it was played on the same day that we faced Westmeath at HQ. I don’t think I ever saw a more soporific championship clash at Croke Park in my life than that one. Cork just seemed to be going through the motions and while it looked for a good while that they had the winning of the game, they just didn’t seem bothered enough to put in the required effort to do it.
Having been in Division One for so long, it might have been expected that Cork would make short work out of engineering an immediate return to the top flight over the course of this year’s spring campaign. This didn’t, though, happen as they won two, drew three and lost two to finish fourth in Division Two. While they were never in any danger of a second successive demotion, they never really made a serious push for promotion either.
This lassitude carried over into the Munster championship too. Overwhelming favourites to beat Waterford in the opening round at the end of May, they only escaped from Fraher Field with victory by a single point, 1-12 to 1-11. They did, though, turn the tables on Tipperary, avenging last year’s historic Munster championship loss to Liam Kearns’ side when they met them in this year’s Munster semi-final at Páirc Uí Rinn. Once again, however, it was a close-run thing, with Tipp hitting the front via a Conor Sweeney goal a minute from time only for Cork to respond in kind at the other end in injury time to eke out a 1-10 to 1-9 win.
Despite all the pre-match yerra-ing from the Kerry camp, the Kingdom had no trouble at all swatting the Rebels aside in the Munster final at the start of this month. Kerry won their fifth Munster title in a row at their ease in Killarney, cantering to a 1-23 to 0-15 win. Key to the win was a very positive start from the Kerry lads, with Cork never able to get on terms at any stage in the contest.
Unlike last year, Cork have to face into Round 4 of the qualifiers this time without the restorative benefit of re-acquainting themselves with victory via the back door. The record shows that defeated provincial finalists do poorly in Round 4, though the three-week turnaround they’re getting this year should certainly help.
The bookies appear to have made their minds up on the underachieving Rebels. We’re priced as strong 1/6 favourites with Paddy Power to beat them on Saturday week, with the handicap set at -6.
That, then, is the broad-brush background on our Round 4A opponents. Let’s finish with a poll: how do you reckon we’ll get on against the Rebels this time round?
Will we defeat the Rebels?
- Yes (84%, 589 Votes)
- No (16%, 111 Votes)
Total Voters: 700