Cork GAA football captain Ian Maguire will be back training soon. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

The countdown is underway!

The long wait for games is nearly over and, a bit like buses, they all come along together, and when they do start it will be hectic, with fixture details for all four codes released in the last few days.

Well not all, the exact details of Allianz National hurling and football fixtures are still been worked on but gradually they are making their way into the public domain.

The one disappointing aspect of the new schedule was that for the second year in a row, the football championship will be a straight knock-out, understandable last year, but it was time constraints that impacted on this year’s championship.

Fergal McGill from Croke Park explained that in order to give adequate time for the club season, a further three weeks would have been needed to have a qualifier system and the Tailteann Cup played this year.

This of course can be traced back to the ‘loss’ of elite status for inter-county teams at the start of the season, which forced the deferral of the commencement of the leagues. To be fair, the GAA at the time felt with case numbers very high, immediately after Christmas, that it would be better not to start the leagues.

One other reason in my humble opinion, was finance or the lack of it; simply put it suited everyone for inter-county teams not to be training - it’s easily worked out. The expense for a dual county with two teams training three times a week, with meals and travelling expenses quickly mounts up.

Let’s look at what’s coming down the tracks in the coming weeks. National Hurling League

The managers were asked for their opinions on the format for these and not surprisingly by a large majority opted for a three week run with five games in a six team group.

Cork are in Division 1A and will open their campaign on 8/9 May almost certainly with a home game against Waterford, in fact with the groups the same as last year, the reverse fixtures will apply.

On the following weekend, Sunday 16 it’s a trip to Thurles and a meeting with old rivals Tipperary, who visit Limerick in the first round.

23 May will see Westmeath travel to Leeside and after a week’s break until 6 June and the ultimate test with a clash with the holders of all three major titles, NHL, Munster and All-Ireland champions Limerick.

The final group game is scheduled for 13 June v Galway this has been programmed for Páirc Uí Chaoimh with a 1.45pm start, according to Galway GAA.

Páirc Uí Chaoimh is now been used as a vaccination centre by the HSE and its availability might be in doubt, hopefully it should be okay, if not the game will revert to Páirc Uí Rinn.

Certainly that’s a tough run of games; injuries and form will be crucial and the management will have to weigh up the options, trying to win games - bringing confidence, while at the same time getting game time into the newcomers to the panel.

Equally working a game plan will also be important with the championship coming shortly after the league concludes. In fact the Munster championship draws take place on Monday morning.

The depth of the squad will really be tested in that period and when it’s over, there will be a two week break to the opening round of the championship.

The quarter-final, if involved, of the Munster Hurling Championship is down for the weekend of 26/27 June.

There is no quarter or semi-finals in this year’s league, in fact there might not even be a final.

Again in a shortened season, the final will only be played if the top teams in 1A and 1B meet in the championship it will then double up as the league final, a similar situation applied last year when Clare and Limerick met in the Munster quarter-final in Thurles.

Counties have until Friday to submit any proposals or changes to the fixtures they might require but the general consensus would seem that the above will apply, and in relation to the Munster Championship all games will be at neutral venues as they were in the 2020 Championship.

National Football League

It has been well flagged that Cork will play in Division 2 South with Clare, Laois and Kildare and as expected, they will be punished by conceding one home game for the breach of the training ban that also led to Manager Ronan McCarthy receiving a 12 week ban.

Now following an appeal and a Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA) hearing, the suspension has been confirmed but will conclude before the league campaign begins which is on 16 May.

Kildare is the one game they would have had at home, but as with Dublin, Down and Monaghan they will forfeit that advantage, but with no crowds, will it have any bearing?

The expectation is the neutral venue of Thurles will be chosen for this encounter.

On 22 May, it’s O’Moore Park Portlaoise for the clash with Laois and a week later it’s Clare, a team we have struggled against in recent years, in Cusack Park Ennis.

The format is that the top two in this section will qualify for the semi-finals against the top two from the other D2 South group. The finalists will earn promotion to Division 1, with the bottom four in the relegation play-offs.

As in hurling, the final is dependent on the championship schedule, and will only be played if it does not disrupt the fixture programme. If it cannot be played, the finalists will also be declared joint winners, along with being promoted.

This will be a tough section, with two Kerrymen guiding the Leinster teams - Jack O’Connor at Kildare and Mike Quirke at Laois - apart from wanting to win they would like nothing better than to stall Cork’s progress to the top division.

Mark Collins has said that “promotion to the top division is our aim as it will further develop and strengthen the squad, which is still a relatively young one”.

As with the hurling, nothing easy but when the league is over, the selection committee will know exactly where they stand heading into knockout championship football.

Camogie

Apart from welcoming new President Hilda Breslin, the Camogie Association’s Annual Congress passed a number of very significant rule changes.

These include the abolition of the hand-pass goal, although you can still hand-pass a point, dropping the hurley is no longer allowed - about time in my opinion - penalties are now one on one from the 20 metre line, more physical contact is also permitted, as is the quick free by the player fouled and also the quick puckout can now be taken.

All these rules were trialled during last year’s championship and met with the approval of players and officials alike and generally improved the game as a spectacle, and that trend should continue when the league starts in a couple of weeks time.

Important and all as these were, the decision with 81 per cent approval to support the dual player was just as significant. The motion that passed states “that where practicable they will support the concept of the dual player and will work to that end in the fixture making process”.

This was welcomed by many particularly here in Cork which is the one county that was most affected in recent years.

Interestingly when the Camogie and Ladies Football fixtures were released there was no direct clash involving the Cork teams.

In Division 1, Cork will have Tipperary at home on Saturday 15 May and away to Waterford on 29 May, the group winners go to the semi-final on 12/13 June with the runners up into the quarter-finals on 5/6 June with Cork odds on to progress from this group.

The final is scheduled for 26/27 June.

In Division 2, Cork are away to Tipperary on 15 May - why this could not have been a double-header or at least in the same county is hard to fathom. Kerry travel to Cork on Saturday 22 May and conclude with a trip to Galway on 29 May.

The top two in each group go to the quarter-finals on 5/6 June, with semi-finals on Saturday 13 June with the final on 19 June.

Ladies Football

Having announced some weeks ago that the revamped league would commence on 23 May, the actual fixture schedule was finalised in the last few days.

In the four team group, Cork have two home games. First up are Tipperary on 23 May, a week later on 30 May it’s the big one, a repeat of the December All-Ireland Final with champions Dublin in town and the group concludes on 6 June with a trip to Waterford.

Semi-Finals are on 12/13 June with the final fixed for 26/27 June.

Both Cork Camogie and Ladies Football team will probably use their respective league campaigns to blood new players with an eye on the championship later in the season.

A number of the Dublin Ladies Football team are currently playing in the WAFL in Australia so they will not have their strongest team on duty for the majority of the campaign.

So there you have it, the busiest of weeks coming up and when that concludes, the club scene will hopefully kick into action!

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