|The start of the GAA season begins in earnest this week with the start of the Allianz National Football League . The question on many Cork Fans lips, how will the team management use the League with a view to the Championship?
The Footballers went through the last decade without capturing a League title if you exclude last years success of the Footballers capturing a Division Two title. Indeed its been eleven years since the Footballers won a National League Crown.
The Footballers promoted from Division 2 start off their campaign against Monaghan on Sunday and it is a difficult opener to start with. Cork’s non involvement in the McGrath Cup may have set them a few weeks behind other Counties in their preparation for the League, a competition ironically won by the arch enemy Kerry. The Rebels have the slight advantage however of having four of their seven League games at home. It would set them up nicely if they could at least take a point from the game in Monaghan as their other two away games are against Derry and Tyrone. After Monaghan the pick of the home games is against Kerry the following weekend they will also face Galway, Dublin, and Mayo at home.
It will be interesting to see if the Footballers will go all out to win the League or just try and consolidate their position in Division 1 after being promoted. Everyone will be wondering to see what the reaction will be after last years disappointing All Ireland Final defeat. When Cork lost two All Irelands in 1987 and 1988 they bounced back to win the League in 1989 followed by an All Ireland the following September. Indeed the Tipperary Hurlers after similar disappointments over the same years too bounced back to win an All Ireland in 1989 also. To throw in an another similarity Arsenal won the League too that year but that might be stretching the point a little.
The team selection for the League will be intriguing with some positions still causing the Selectors a few anxious moments. These would include Full Back, Centre Back, Centre Forward and Full Forward. The number three position has been filled again recently by Derek Kavanagh. It looked like during last years Championship that the Nemo man was being phased out as the only game time he saw in last years campaign was about half of the second half of last years Final when asked to try and control Kerry substitute Kieran Donaghy. Kavanaghs positioning at Full Back may entice the Selectors to move Michael Shields up to a more attacking role in the Half Back line.
The Barr’s man too could also feature maybe at Centre Back a position last year filled by Graham Canty, the Bantry man had an up and down season last year and possibly a poor All Ireland Final by his own high standards.
Cork have been struggling at Centre Forward since probably Larry Tompkins and Joe Kavanagh departed the scene. The Selectors will probably give Paddy Kelly or Donnacha O’Connor a run in that position in the opening rounds. With the Selectors having plenty of options in defence one would love to see Graham Canty given a run at Centre Forward it could have similar results to Brian Corcoran moving into the Cork Full Forward line in Hurling in 2004. The number fourteen position too is a talking point. Colm O’Neill came in late in the Championship and made a satisfactory effort but one feels a natural ball winner maybe is needed . The selectors may decide to look at maybe even Pearse O’Neill or Nicholas Murphy for that position. Interestingly in the League in 1990 Billy Morgan used Shay Fahy in that position to a certain degree of success, one can remember a cracking goal scored by the Kildare man in the League against Kerry.
One disappointing aspect of the League is managements decision not to use players involved in the Under 21 panel. This robs fans of seeing Ciaran Sheehan and Aidan Walsh. These two are destined for great things in the Cork Jersey and the latter looks a great prospect and another in the Graham Canty or Stephen O’Brien mould.
The betting for the League is along the lines similar for an All Ireland with Kerry and Tyrone leading the market and Cork not too far behind at 10/3. An interesting bet might be Joe Kernans Galway at 15/2. With Division 1 being so tight and with seven tough completive games managers might be happy enough with that and you could find two teams in the final by default as a result of some strange results in the last round.