BY KIERAN McCARTHY
CORK’S senior footballers need to add some steel to their game and become a harder team to play against this season, insists Rebel selector Owen Sexton.
After enduring a dismal 2014 championship campaign that needs little introduction the jury is out on this Cork football team ahead of their Allianz Football League Division 1 opener home to Dublin, in Páirc Uí Rinn, this Sunday, at 2pm.
Considering that four of Cork’s seven league games are away to Ulster teams – Monaghan, Donegal, Tyrone and Derry – there’s a particular need to garner home points in the games against Dublin, Kerry and Mayo, as well as show an improvement from last year’s championship.
‘We want to be more consistent across the year and we want to become a much harder team for whoever is playing us. We need to do that game in and game out,’ Kilbrittain’s Owen Sexton told The Southern Star.
‘Towards the end of the championship you saw that both Kerry and Donegal were very defensively sound. Each game is different so we’d like to have a few more strings to the bow than just all out attack.
‘We would certainly like to add a couple of game plans to the armoury that we could apply in different championship games.’
The West Cork man, now in his second year as a senior selector in Brian Cuthbert’s management team, acknowledges that the Rebels need to get the balance right in the league, with one eye on the championship.
‘Up until the semi-final last year it was a very encouraging league,’ Sexton pointed out.
‘Certainly some of the games that we played in were high-scoring games and maybe they weren’t realistic to what would come in the championship later in the year.
‘It’s a very strong league and the main thing is to maintain our Division 1 status and to become a better team with the championship in mind. That might mean working on different layouts with the team because last year while we were very high scoring, other teams were also very high scoring against us. We know that isn’t the reality of the championship so we have a few things to work on.’
A high-profile clash at home to Dublin will certainly attract a crowd and pack a punch, but Cork need to make their three games in Páirc Uí Rinn count. Sexton agrees.
‘The three home games are vital because we have four games in the north. We had high-scoring games last season but you wouldn’t envisage the games away from home this year being as high scoring,’ he said.
‘We are mindful that this league is super tough. We’ve Kerry, Mayo and Dublin at home, and they are all top four teams, and the northern teams will be tough in their home patch. We need to pick up as many points as we can at home because it’s a difficult league.’
Sexton agrees that it was a baptism of fire for Cork’s new management team in their maiden championship season – the home Munster final defeat to Kerry a particular low – but he is confident that lessons have been learned from last season’s mistakes.
‘The learning curve is huge. After the very good league we had a very tough Munster championship, to say the least, and we had a bit of a recovery after that,’ said Sexton, who won an All-Ireland minor title alongside Cuthbert in 1993.
‘Okay, we didn’t get to a semi-final which we would have hoped to do, but the lads responded really well after a testing Munster championship.
‘We would have felt we learned a lot very quickly and certainly we would be more confident this season. Hopefully, we can be more consistent this year.’
But considering what unfolded on Lee-side last term, after a promising league campaign, Cuthbert and his team are under pressure to show improvement this season.
‘There’s pressure regardless of the season you have before. If you are All-Ireland champions there is pressure to retain your title, but certainly we were very disappointed with how Munster went for us last year and that will put a bit of focus on us this season with people wondering how Cork will do. That does bring a bit of pressure, but we will work hard to improve,’ Sexton said.
‘This is a changing team and because the league is so tough we will see very quickly how much we learned last year. Certainly in 2014 you can’t say that the league was a reflection of the championship.
‘We should get a good idea early on and I think the league will tell us a lot about what we have learned and where we stand.’