The week is flying by and, thanks to all this media slavering over the Dubs in recent days, there’s very little being said in the nationals about our forthcoming Round 4A qualifier against Cork on Saturday at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick (throw-in 5pm). There is one piece of note, however, in today’s papers that I’ll come back to presently.
I suppose I’m in no position to be saying nobody is interested in this game – sure am I not giving it a miss myself? For those of you who do plan to be there, though, you’ll be heartened to know that Stephen Rochford, speaking to Mike Finnerty in this week’s Mayo News, has reported a clean bill of health within the squad. I mean really clean, including as it does Barry Moran, Donie Newcombe and Conor O’Shea.
The only squad member ruled out right now is cruciate victim Kevin Keane, who, by the way, also features in the Mayo News this week – here. Given that the county has already played four championship matches this summer, coming through two hard qualifier matches in as many weeks, that’s very positive news.
Despite having a full panel to pick from, being in knockout territory means putting your strongest team on the field – either at the start of the game or nearer the finish – every single time. Cork are highly dangerous opponents for us, a fact referenced by Stephen Rochford in that piece with Mike Finnerty linked to above. The manager is right to warn that we’re likely to face a backlash from the Rebels when we meet at the Gaelic Grounds.
How we might go about winning this game is a topic dissected in this week’s Mayo News by Billy Joe Padden – here. In his column, Billy Joe ponders on our slow starts against Derry and Clare and he reckons we need to “show progress” from our display in Cusack Park both to win the game and for the future of this team in the championship. He also has some interesting observations to make on Cillian’s freetaking and suggests what the Ballintubber man might do to improve an area that has shown up as a slight problem one this summer.
Ger Flanagan, also writing in this week’s Mayo News, has some practical advice to offer about travelling to, eating in and, perhaps, staying a night in Limerick. It’s a city Ger knows well from his student days and his fact file for Mayo fans on Limerick is here.
But back to that piece in the nationals, more precisely in the Irish Examiner this morning where Denis Hurley speaks with Cork captain Paul Kerrigan – it’s here. What the Nemo Rangers man has to say pretty much confirms Stephen Rochford’s opinion of Cork as an extremely tricky proposition for us.
The Cork speedster reckons that the footballers rank third – after the hurlers and the shiny new Páirc Uí Chaoimh – in the minds of Cork GAA followers right now. He concedes that more Rebel supporters will be at the Leeside venue this weekend, for matches not involving the county, than will travel to Limerick to shout for the footballers.
Kerrigan isn’t fazed by this – after all, it’s not today nor yesterday that the Cork footballers have been short-changed by their supporters – and in that piece he lays out clearly why we should be very wary of the challenge they’ll pose for us on Saturday.
And we should. This is a far more difficult assignment for us than the Derry or Clare games. Indeed, as someone noted on here after it was confirmed we’d be playing Cork, this is by far the hardest qualifier match we’ve ever been involved in. It’s still, of course, a winnable one for us and we’re rightly favourites to advance, even if those 1/6 match odds are nuts.
We’ll only advance, however, if – as Billy Joe notes – there’s a step up in performance levels compared to what we saw at Cusack Park. It’s all-or-nothing for both teams on Saturday evening and the least we can expect is that Cork will give it everything, as we’ll need to too.
With a full deck to choose from, we’ll go into this tie with possibly the most experienced match-day panel we’ve ever deployed in a championship fixture. That should give us confidence of our ability to do the business in Limerick but a performance to match the occasion is a prerequisite for this to happen as well.