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‘It’s important that we win our home games because the away trips are tough,’ says Cork football boss John Cleary 

February 16th, 2024 1:30 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

‘It’s important that we win our home games because the away trips are tough,’ says Cork football boss John Cleary  Image
Cork manager John Cleary. Cork were defeated by Kerry in MSFC semi final.

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HE hasn’t reached for the panic button just yet, but John Cleary has acknowledged the need for Cork to pick up points fast in Allianz Football League Division 2.

Back-to-back away losses to Donegal and Louth have left the rocked Rebels rooted to the bottom of the table and in desperate need of points to fend off a relegation battle. Next up is the first home game of the season, as fourth-place Cavan visit SuperValu Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday (4pm).

‘It’s important that we win our home games because the away trips are tough,’ Cleary says, pointing out that his side must still travel to Fermanagh and Meath in the weeks ahead.

Home ties against Cavan, Kildare and Armagh are now all must-win games if Cork are to turn this league campaign around.

‘We would hope to make Páirc Uí Chaoimh a fortress, starting with the Cavan game,’ the Cork boss said.

But Cork’s home form in the league has been an Achilles heel. In 2023 Cork took just three league points from a possible eight (P4, W1, D1, L2) at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. The season before, Cork picked up three points from three home games (P3, W1, D1, L1). To make Páirc Uí Chaoimh a fortress, Cork need to win their home games, but conceding 1-20 against Donegal and then 2-9 against Louth is an area of concern; the leaky Rebels now conceded the third highest amount across all four divisions. Cleary knows they need to tighten up considerably.

‘The two goals against Louth was the first time we conceded two goals since the beginning of the league last year against Meath,’ he pointed out. 

‘It’s an area we do need to get back to where we were last year and being tight at the back. If you don’t give away scores you are giving yourself a chance. We know we have to get back on track.’

With the impending return of Sean Powter, Thomas Clancy and goalkeeper Micheál Martin, it gives Cleary more options in defence, and he feels if Cork can get a settled team on the field then the results will pick up.

‘We had a settled team last year,’ he said, ‘after the second game there were very few changes, but this year we have had to shuffle a bit more. You are going to have injuries, fellas out of form, fellas coming back from injuries but not really up to it, we are not alone in dealing with that.’

In the games against Donegal and Louth, goalkeeper Patrick Doyle and defenders Maurice Shanley, Tommy Walsh, Luke Fahy, Sean Meehan and Mattie Taylor started in both – the only change was Rory Maguire started in Ballybofey while Daniel O'Mahony started in Ardee. Cleary pointed out that Luke Fahy missed a considerable chunk of last season and is only back this year, Rory Maguire picked up a knock after Castlehaven’s run to the All-Ireland club semi-final, Micheál Martin has been out with a groin issue, so they need games to get up to speed. Division 2 is an unforgiving place, though. 

‘The team hasn’t really sorted itself out yet,’ he admitted.

‘We are disappointed to lose the first two games, it’s not where we wanted to be or thought we would be. The next game is a big one, but whatever happens the following week against Fermanagh and the week after against Kildare will be big games, too. Hopefully we can put in a performance against Cavan that can get us over the line.’

While promotion was the target before a ball was kicked, Cork are already four points off the leading duo of Armagh and Donegal. Instead of jostling for position near the summit, the Rebels are still at the start line, waiting for a result to get them moving. With three games in 15 days – including two at home – Cork need results.

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