THE Cork footballers already have the McGrath Cup on the sideboard, but nobody would be too satisfied if that was the only silverware claimed in 2018.
The Rebels, under the new management of Ronan McCarthy, begin their quest to get out of Division 2 of the Allianz FL with a home tie against Tipperary in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday (5pm).
Given recent history, with Tipp having proven troublesome for Cork, and the fact that there is little room for error in the league, is Saturday’s game a pivotal one?
‘Maybe pivotal is the wrong word,’ he says, ‘but it is important to get a good start in the league.
‘What happens is that if you lose your first game, it puts huge pressure on the second. Generally, if you lose two then you’re in big trouble.
‘In the past, when you had four teams qualifying for the semi-finals in Division 1, losing two games, you could probably recover from it.
‘With the top-two situation, if you lose two games then you need to be fortunate to get back up there.
‘I suppose it is important to get a good result, particularly when we’re going away from home the following week. Let’s perform and let’s see where it takes us.’
To that end, the McGrath Cup has been very beneficial.
‘We used the competition for what it was for,’ McCarthy says.
‘We won it, which is great and so on, if we hadn’t won it, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world either.
‘We used it obviously to give game-time to guys and to assess fellas that we’ve brought into the panel and from that point of view, and with winning it as well, it was of great benefit to us.’
McCarthy expects to have a full complement on Saturday, bar the Nemo Rangers players involved in the All-Ireland club championship, as well as Kanturk’s Aidan Walsh.
It’s likely to be a year of rebuilding for Cork after under-performance in the past few campaigns. Is it possible to oversee a transition as well as challenging for promotion?
‘I think they go hand in hand,’ McCarthy says.
‘Part of our role as a management team is to ask the players, when they go out to play, to be courageous in the way they play and the same thing applies to us.
‘We have to be courageous in giving fellas opportunities and also allowing guys to make mistakes and keeping faith in them.
‘What we’re asking of the players, we need to ask of ourselves as well in terms of team selection and management.’
It’s important, he believes, that players are not too inhibited.
‘You have to encourage fellas to play,’ he says.
‘Without listing out the names – and I could give a few – I could list out a lot of players who had debuts at intercounty level, league or championship, that weren’t anything to remember them by but they turned out to be fine players.
‘I think people are inclined to write players off very quickly if they play poorly. If you’re developing talent and developing players, you have to have a long-term view of things.
‘Let’s hope we have that.’