Cillian Fahy of Limerick in action against Killian O’Hanlon of Cork during the McGrath Cup Final at Mallow GAA Grounds last Friday. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Tough league opener for footballers versus Meath

The pre-season is now over, the McGrath Cup safely tucked away but the real business gets underway on Sunday with the opening game against Meath in the Allianz National Football League.

Cork Ladies Footballers are also back in action, while the all Cork semi-final in the Corn Uí Mhuirí is on Saturday.

Allianz NFL Division 2

Cork v Meath on Sunday at Páirc Uí Chaoimh at 1.30pm

“Look we are happy enough with the win, we set out to get 3 games in the competition and that’s how it worked out,” said Cork football manager John Cleary in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s win over Limerick in the McGrath Cup Final.

“There were of course other aspects that we were not happy with; we conceded 2 goals - our first in the competition - and we were a bit sloppy at times.”

Of course with injuries and 3rd level games, it’s a case of balancing the team selection. “For instance Rory (Maguire) played last night (Thursday) and again tonight, while Conor Corbett is actually playing tonight (Friday) so all that is factored in when we sit down to pick the team.”

John was happy though that there are no injuries and they got valuable game time into the squad. “That will help going forward and thankfully no injuries, a few little niggles but given the schedule we have had, that is to be expected.”

As for the players re-introduced to the panel, John explained: “We said early on that we would look at all players and their form in the county championship and on that basis the lads played well and were given the opportunity to rejoin the panel and we are delighted. Tom Clancy played the first half tonight and that is another good addition.”

The bigger test awaits and the first of these is on Sunday when Colm O’Rourke brings his Meath team to Páirc Uí Chaoimh. “No question this will be a step up but that is what we have been preparing for since we started back. The mistakes we made tonight would be punished by the stronger teams so, it’s a case of review the game and get ready for what we know will be a huge game next weekend. It’s a very strong Division 2 and every point will be vital especially at home, but we’re happy with where we are and looking forward to it.”

It is a very competitive division, when you consider Dublin, Kildare and Derry are among the 7 teams Cork will face.

The other aspect is your league placing could determine whether you play in the Sam Maguire or the Tailteann Cup, especially if you suffer a first round championship defeat.

Cork have 4 home games, one against Dublin, so you really need to be winning these matches and then pick up points on the road, not easy, but well within their range, promotion is obviously the target, but avoiding a relegation battle is equally important.

What of Meath? Colm O’Rourke obviously is well respected in the game and with Sean Boylan also involved, you can be certain they will travel to Leeside in confident mood.

Meath had 3 games in the much maligned O’Byrne Cup, they had a 4 point win over Carlow in the 1st round and then drew with both Laois and Longford which was not enough for them to make the semi-finals, but those games will have undoubtedly shown O’Rourke what lies ahead for his panel.

Billy Hogan, Michael Flood, Donal Keogan, Shane Crosby, Cillian O’Sullivan and Jack O’Connor are some of the players that featured with Meath in those games are likely to be involved again on Sunday.

What will the composition of the Cork starting 15 look like?

Micheál Aodh Martin looks certain to start in goal, while Kevin O’Donovan, Mattie Taylor, Sean Meehan, Rory Maguire and possibly Maurice Shanley could all feature in defence.

The midfield pairing looks like it will be Ian Maguire and Colm O’Callaghan - two big ball winners.

As for the attack, Brian Hurley and Steven Sherlock are in top class form, as is the hard working and tenacious Sean Powter, the remaining 3 will come from a range of players who did well in the games to date.

Eoghan McSweeney, Chris Óg Jones, Conor Corbett, Brian O’Driscoll, Ruairí Deane, John O’Rourke, Killian O’Hanlon and a number of others will occupy the thoughts of John and his selection committee before they decide on who starts.

What it does say is that the depth of the panel is looking stronger and with plenty of options off the bench - so important in the game today.

Whatever 15 is named they will need to try and get off to the best possible start, gain a grip in the key areas, especially midfield and make it hard for Meath.

Both sides have momentum coming into the game, Cork maybe with a bit more and confidence should be high. Meath won the corresponding fixture in Navan last season, but the odds favour Cork reversing that result and get their campaign off to the best possible start.

The game will be live on C103.

Lidl Ladies Football Lidl National League Division 1

Cork v Waterford at Pilltown on Sunday at 2pm

There were contrasting results for these sides last weekend, Cork winning on the road in Mayo, while a late Kerry goal denied Waterford a win they looked like getting for long periods of a competitive contest.

Shane Roynane was thrilled with Cork’s win: “Great start to the league, we had just 6 of the side that lost to Mayo in the championship, which makes the result all the more pleasing.”

Shane hailed the mix of youth and experience that got them over the line. “It was really the younger players who gave great encouragement and support right from the off, and that will stand to them.”

Waterford next up and the manager was looking forward to it: “We will get back training during the week and go there hoping to make it back to back wins on the road; we have Dublin in a couple of weeks but for now the focus is on Waterford.”

Melissa Duggan and Katie Quirke got the vital goals, while the contribution of Libby Coppinger, the returning Erika O’Shea, Eimear Meaney, Aoife Healy, Abigail Ring and Hannah Looney were crucial in the win, and they should back it by winning on Sunday.

Corn Uí Mhuirí semi-final

Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh v St Francis College Rochestown on Saturday in Mallow at 1pm

It’s a first semi-final in 18 years for CSN, while Rochestown were in the last four a short few years ago and this makes for an interesting encounter between two sides that were very impressive in their respective groups.

Rochestown got the better of St Flannans in a tense quarter-final, they lost Callum O’Neill to a straight red card which rules him out of this game, while injured duo of Brian Hayes and Harry Quilligan are considered unlikely to be fit, and they would be major losses.

It will mean a bit more responsibility on others to step up with Sean Coakley likely to be a key player for them with Louis Dwane Fogarty, Barry Kelleher, Tim O’Brien, Danny Howard and Billy Fraher offering excellent support.

In their QF win over Skibbereen CS, Adam O’Sullivan was the key player for Sprioraid Naoimh. He bagged 2-5 out of a total of 2-12 and by any standards that’s impressive shooting and this will test the Rochestown defence.

Their midfield pairing of Tomas O’Keeffe and Marc O’Connor helped them dominate possession while Darragh O’Donovan also worked hard in the half-forward line.

Matthew Ahern, James Byrne, Adam Laverty and Robert Quirke have all impressed in their run to the last four.

It’s hard to call, especially as there is a touch of a local derby about it, but the absentees could hurt Rochestown so a nod to CSN to make the final.