Cleary: This is another step in Cork's journey

April 8th, 2023 12:00 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

Cork manager John Cleary.

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IT’S only five weeks since Cork footballers last played – and won – in Cusack Park, but John Cleary is bracing his Rebels for a different challenge this time.

On March 5th Cork delivered a hammer blow to Clare’s survival chances in Division 2 of the Allianz Football League when they won 3-10 to 1-8 at Cusack Park. It was one of five losses the Banner County suffered during a campaign that saw them relegated to Division 3, so they’ll be hurting and looking for revenge. 

Cleary is briefing his players to expect a fired-up Clare in this Sunday’s Munster SFC quarter-final in Ennis (2pm).

‘It’s a new game, but both teams can look back at what happened in those recent games (Division 2 in March and McGrath Cup in January),’ says the Cork manager, who took the Cork team to West Cork last weekend for a mini training camp, staying in the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery. 

‘It’s only a few weeks since we played in the league, they were a point up at half time and we had played with the wind. We pushed on in the second half but it could have gone any way up to that. Clare will take a lot of lessons from that. 

‘Championship is a completely different ball game. Normally it would be more different but because it is so close to the championship, one has rolled into the other. It will be a big task and we know we need to bring our A game.’


Having the knowledge in the bank that Cork, who finished fourth in Division 2, can go away to Cusack Park and beat the home side is vital experience to lean on this Sunday, as Cleary targets taking another step in the Rebels’ journey. The league campaign was a mixed bag, but the general feeling is that progress is being made. Cork secured a top-half finish in the league and were not involved in a relegation scrap; instead with two rounds to go they were still in the promotion picture. Now Cleary wants this Cork to deliver a performance in a championship environment. 

‘If we are going to make progress this is another step in the journey. This is the championship, it’s another level up,’ he says. 

‘Going to Clare is never easy, particularly in the championship. This is a different type of stadium. Ennis is not your Croke Park or Páirc Uí Chaoimh or Fitzgerald Stadium, but that is another part of the challenge. They’ll have the home crowd behind them so we know what we are facing.

‘Okay, we won there last month, that gives a confidence boost but you still have to go up there on Sunday and do it again. Clare are playing at home. They have a good record there. They won’t be easily beaten. We need to be at our best. Clare offer a big challenge. They were unlucky in the league, they lost to Kildare by a point and Dublin by a point, and in another year that would have stayed up.’


There is also the added incentive of the new All-Ireland SFC format when 16 teams will battle for the Sam Maguire Cup. Cork, by virtue of their fourth place finish in Division 2, look safe whereas Clare know they need to contest the Munster final to earn their golden ticket, so there is more than progression in the provincial championship on the line. The winners on Sunday will face Limerick in two week’s time in the semi-final. 

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