Consistency in team selection is helping consistency of performances and results, as Cork join promotion race

March 16th, 2023 3:45 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

Cork manager John Cleary

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THE Rebels’ Rebuild, under John Cleary, is on schedule.

With two rounds left in Division 2 Cork sit third in the table, looking upwards with promotion still possible. They are also the top scorers in all four divisions.

Including the McGrath Cup Cork have won six of their eight games this season, and the two defeats both stung – home to Meath on the opening day after a disappointing performance and home to Dublin by two points after Brian Hurley rattled the crossbar seven minutes into injury time.

This has been a season of progress to date.

In the aftermath of Cork’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final loss to Dublin last summer John Cleary admitted that results showed the Rebels were a ‘mid-to-lower Division 2 team’.

Results – and performances – now class Cork as a team competing in the top half of Division 2, and coming off back-to-back league wins against the two teams (Clare and Limerick) in their side of the upcoming Munster senior football championship. Psychological blows delivered before the championship.


Last summer Cleary insisted that Cork’s next step is to compete at the top of Division 2, so are Cork on schedule? 

‘When the league is finished we will evaluate where we end up,’ the Castlehaven man tells The Southern Star.

‘In training, it’s the next game, the next game. You don't take your eyes off the next game. (Last Sunday) against Clare is forgotten. All our focus now is on the Louth game and nothing else. After that it’s Derry. Then it’s Clare in the Munster championship.

‘We have had a mixture so far. We have played some very good football and also had two losses when we weren’t better than the opposition on those days – and that’s what we strive to do every day, to be better. 

‘We didn’t want to be going into the last game with a relegation threat and now that is gone after (beating Clare), so that should give us confidence to look up the table.

‘Our aim now is to finish as high as we can and we will do that by going up to Louth and getting two more points, and then preparing for the Derry game.’

John Cleary never gives too much away. The highs are never too high. The lows are never too low. He is pleased with the progress this season as Cork have found a consistency in performance that had been lacking, and the consistency in team selection is key here. From game to game changes are minimal. Eleven players have started all five league games – Micheál Aodh Martin, Maurice Shanley, Daniel O’Mahony, Rory Maguire, Matty Taylor, Colm O’Callaghan, Ian Maguire, Eoghan McSweeney, Sean Powter, Brian Hurley and Chris Óg Jones. If Brian O’Driscoll wasn’t injured (hamstring) that number would stand at 12. Both Luke Fahy and Tommy Walsh, used subs in the opener against Meath, have started the last four league games in defence. There’s a consistency to Cleary’s charges.

‘When a guy has the jersey and has done well he deserves to hold on to it,’ the Cork boss says

‘This year we couldn't go experimenting, we have had to go for every game from day one and we felt if we want to try and be successful the lads have to be used to playing with each other. The only way to achieve that is to have time on the field together. There have been changes, through injuries and so on. The bulk of the lads have been together, that has been a positive and I think they are gelling better with each match.’

Clare's Eoin Cleary is challenged by Cork's Eoghan McSweeney and Sean Powter during the Allianz Football League Division 2 game at Cusack Park, Ennis.(Photo: Gerry O'Neill)


The consistency Cleary wants is leading to more consistent performances and results, and this team is learning different ways to win matches. Cork hammered Limerick 6-18 to 0-12 and showed a ruthless streak. They rebounded from a poor first-half display against Clare to dig out a 3-10 to 1-8 win in Ennis.

‘If we are going to improve and get on to the next level we need to be able to find different ways to win games,’ Cleary says.

‘We dug ourselves into a hole in the first half against Clare but came out the second half, against the wind and not playing well, but turned it around. The lads were able to solve our problems on the field, that’s a positive.’ 

It’s back-to-back league wins that have Cork in the promotion picture, but with work to do and depending on other teams to do them favours. Still, talking promotion beats a relegation scrap.

‘Nothing helps confidence more than winning,’ the Cork boss says.

‘We have played eight games and won six, including the McGrath Cup. Every day you go out and you win, that gives the team great self belief and confidence. On the other hand when you have a defeat it’s about how you deal with that. No team is going to win every match so you have to deal with that when it happens. So far we have dealt well, but it’s early stages yet. We have two more games in the league and then two weeks later the championship starts and hopefully we will get another run in that. There is a long way to go yet.

‘It hasn't been all roses either, the Meath game was a disappointment, but I felt how we would deal with that would tell a lot. The following Sunday we went up to Kildare and had a great win. Bar the one blip, we have been fairly consistent and that was the aim we set out at the start of the year. So far we would be happy enough in that regard.’

Now a consistent Cork is focussed on the next challenge: away to Louth, who are also on six points, on Sunday, March 19th. That’s the next opportunity for the Rebels’ Rebuild to continue building momentum.

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