CORK footballers’ recent league record against Clare doesn’t inspire confidence.
The Munster rivals will clash in a Division 2 football league encounter for the fourth time in five seasons this Saturday evening (7pm) at Páirc Uí Chaoimh – and it’s the Banner men who lead this series 3-1.
In 2017 Clare beat Cork (2-11 to 0-9) in Ennis; that was their first league win over the Rebels in 23 years and they liked it so much they repeated the trick in 2018, this time on Cork soil, winning 0-14 to 0-12 in Páirc Uí Rinn. In 2019 Colm Collins’ Clare were comfortable winners, 3-13 to 1-10, in Ennis, and that was the season Cork were relegated to Division 3. Back up in Division 2 for 2021, it was a reduced league schedule because of Covid, but Cork did win away to Clare, 0-22 to 1-18; it wasn’t enough for the Rebels to advance to the knock-out stages whereas Clare did.
Worth noting too that since Cork were relegated from Division 1 in 2016, Clare have finished above the Rebels in every league campaign since then. And heading into Saturday night’s meeting Cork are, again, looking up at Clare who won their opener against Offaly last weekend, 1-13 to 0-7.
With Cork’s limp start to this campaign – the underwhelming 1-13 to 0-10 loss away to Roscommon – this clash with Clare takes on extra significance as Keith Ricken’s men will be keen to get points on the board, and for a number of reasons: boost confidence and dampen the talk of a potential relegation battle.
Fair enough, Cork only lost their opener and it’s not end-of-the-world stuff, but this has the potential to escalate quickly. With a trip to an improving Derry (comfortable winners against Down last weekend) in round three and then a home game against Division 2 favourites Galway (who hammered Meath on Sunday) in the fourth round, it puts extra importance on this Saturday’s visit of Clare. Win, and it releases some of the pressure. Lose, and that same pressure will ratchet up – and that’s not the noise that Ricken wants or needs as his rebuild gets underway.
The reports from Roscommon last Sunday don’t offer much encouragement of a sudden turnaround. As much as Cork were inexperienced, so too were the home side who had eight league debutants and were missing a host of regulars, too. The Rebels just weren't good enough.
‘Even the basic stuff we did today, the passes, the kicks, some of the options, they weren't up to the standard those players are capable of doing and what we'd be expecting from them,’ Ricken lamented afterwards, and his team needs to up their game for the visit of a Clare side that won’t fear Cork in the slightest.
Ricken has outlined how big this job is – and we all know it is – and he needs time and patience, but he also needs results along the way to signal that this is the way forward. A positive result against Clare is just what’s needed now, otherwise a relegation scrap for an inexperienced group might be just around the corner. The first of three home games offers the chance to get points on the board, but Clare won’t make it easy; just look at their recent record.
To highlight the size of Ricken’s rebuild, Carbery Rangers forward John O’Rourke is the only Cork footballer who played in the county’s Division 2 loss to Clare in 2017 that also featured against Roscommon last Sunday. St Finbarr’s Ian Maguire came on as a sub in 2017, as did Mark Collins who has yet to commit to the inter-county set-up for 2022.
Players who featured that day but are not involved now are Ryan Price, Michael Shields, Thomas Clancy, Kevin Crowley, Tomás Clancy, James Loughrey, Stephen Cronin, Aidan Walsh, Ruairi Deane, Brian O’Driscoll, Luke Connolly, Niall Coakley, Donncha O’Connor, Paul Kerrigan, Colm O’Neill, Donal Óg Hodnett, Kevin Davis and Colm O’Driscoll. That’s an incredible turnover of players in just five seasons.