The Cork senior footballers get their season underway on Sunday with a trip to Rathkeale to face Limerick in the McGrath Cup. DENIS HURLEY looks at some of those who will be looking to make their presence felt in Rebel red in 2019
Tom Clancy (Clonakilty)
After a year off the panel, he is back in the fold and will be keen to make an impact. Jamie O’Sullivan’s retirement means that there is a shortage of experienced defenders in the Cork squad and the hope will be the Clancy can step up.
In his previous stint, he showed flashes of what he can do – under Brian Cuthbert, he looked to be close to making the full-back spot his own but injuries halted his progress and he struggled for form in the latter part of Peadar Healy’s reign.
While he is still young, at the same time it is just over eight years since he was a stand-out centre-back on the Cork minor side which reached the All-Ireland final and he will know that time is a finite resource if he is to re-establish himself at inter-county level.
With a rebuild required – though that has seemed to be the case every year for the past few seasons – he will get his chance during the spring as Cork attempt to gain promotion from Division 2. Performances there will dictate what happens afterwards but it’s well within his remit to be a starter for the championship.
Damien Gore (Kilmacabea)
Part of the first cohort of players to compete at U20 level rather than U21, in times past Gore may have been using this year to make a splash at U21 in the hope that it would allow for a seamless progression to the senior set-up once that competition ended in the late spring.
Instead, he is in the mix at the top table from the get-go, perhaps more in a sense of being evaluated for future prospects than as an immediate option (that said, he will start against Limerick this Sunday), but it’s a lot easier to catch the management’s eye when you’re in the set-up.
In recent times, Cork have lacked sufficient numbers of players willing to take on scores but Gore doesn’t lack belief or ability in that regard. So used to being double-marked at club level, he may find the lesser attention of inter-county suits him and a few early-season cameos could give him the opportunity to shine and lay down a marker or two for further exploits.
The talented attacker is fresh from helping his club to end a 33-year for a county senior football title and will look to carry that form on to the inter-county scene.
It’s a case of take two for the Barrs man in the red jersey. A year ago, he scored the late winning goal as Cork beat Clare in the McGrath Cup final – he notched 2-10 in two games in the competition – and then he featured in the league but found the step up difficult to absorb. Didn’t get any game-time in the championship, having picked up a knock before the Tipperary game and then been unable to force his way in.
Any disappointment as a result of that was channelled properly though as he was a driving force in the Barrs’ campaign as they went a step further than they had in 2017.
Still has time on his side – a county U21 in 2016 and 2017, he will be 23 this year – but can’t afford to take that for granted, either. With a fully fit Brian Hurley and Paul Kerrigan back in the mix after being affected by injury last year, the competition to partner Luke Connolly in the inside line will be stiff but that should benefit everybody, not least Cork.
Eoghan McSweeney (Knocknagree)
A strong presence at wing-forward on the Duhallow team that reached the county final, the Knocknagree clubman was also instrumental as the club went all the way to All-Ireland junior glory at the beginning of 2018, scoring two points as they beat Multyfarnham in the final in Croke Park.
The modern wing-forward’s role is all-encompassing – there is a lot of defensive work as wing-backs have now become key attacking components while the traditional aspects of the job remain, not least providing an extra body in forward moves and supplying two or three points a game.
McSweeney was a Cork minor in 2015 and so is still quite young, unlucky that the switch from U21 to U20 last year denied him that developmental opportunity but Duhallow’s strength meant that he was able to benefit from that route, all the more so thanks to their three-game semi-final saga against Castlehaven.
Making life difficult for him is the fact that Cork have players like Mark Collins, Seán White, John O’Rourke and Ruairí Deane, among others, vying for spots in the half-forward line. That said, there is nothing lost by giving new players a go and McSweeney will look to give the management something to think about if and when he is called upon in the early part of the year.
Ronan O’Toole (Éire Óg)
With Aidan Walsh having once again switched codes, there is a vacancy alongside captain Ian Maguire in the Cork midfield.
O’Toole, part of the U21 side which was beaten by Mayo in the 2016 All-Ireland final, featured in the McGrath Cup the following year as well as playing for the Cork junior side and made his league debut last spring as well as coming off the bench in the championship against Tipperary and Tyrone.
Killian O’Hanlon is also in the mix for a midfield berth while Carbery Rangers’ James Fitzpatrick is on the panel as well and Mark Collins can also play there but doing so would deny Cork his playmaking presence in the half-forward line.
O’Toole isn’t afraid to get forward but focuses on his primary duties first and foremost. His energy levels mean that he can play at wing-forward too and that versatility should be an asset during the year.