Denis Hurley got the thoughts of Paddy Kelly ahead of Cork’s clash against Donegal on Saturday at Páirc Uí Rinn (2pm)
FORMER Cork football star Patrick Kelly believes that the difference between staying in Division 2 of the league compared to relegation to Division 3 is likely to have a big effect ahead of the championship.
The Rebels take on Donegal on Saturday afternoon (2pm) in Páirc Uí Rinn in their penultimate game before a trip to Armagh, knowing that at least one win will be needed in order to stay in the second tier.
They do have the consolation of coming in off the back of a win over Tipperary a fortnight ago and, while Kelly expects that that will have restored some confidence, a massive task still awaits.
‘There was a lot of pressure on them before the Tipp game,’ he says, ‘so it’s good that they’ve had two weeks since then, you’d imagine that it’s been a more enjoyable time.
‘From reading about the Tipp game, there was at least a sense that they went for it a bit more and had more natural forwards on the pitch.
‘After the heavy defeats last year, they had to get a bit tighter at the back but it was nearly too much, against Kildare the two wing-forwards, Mark Collins and Tomás Clancy, were very deep and Paul Kerrigan was coming deep against Meath.
‘They look to have found a happier medium but they’re still probably going to be relying on other results and you have to win at least one of the matches so the home game has to be the more likely one rather than trying to go to Armagh and win. In saying that, Donegal would have been considered one of the best teams in Division 2 before the start of the league so it’ll still be a very tough ask.’
As to the seriousness of relegation, Kelly doesn’t think that the effects can be sugar-coated.
‘It would be a big blow,’ he says.
‘Even in terms of the optics from the outside, to have Cork in Division 3 would mean that they wouldn’t be in the top 16 according to the numbers and if you were to have a second-tier championship there’d a danger of being in it.
‘It would be a serious dent in confidence ahead of the championship, but against that then is the fact that it would be a fillip if you did survive, the players would go back to their clubs and then return with hope and enthusiasm.
‘If you get relegated, there’d be a lot of criticism and doom and gloom and rightly so.’
Even so, no matter how bad a league can be, it is still divorced from the championship in base terms, leaving aside form and confidence. Would it still be possible for Cork to have a good summer?
‘I think it would have to have an impact,’ Kelly says.
‘Some teams don’t put a lot of mass in the league because they’re training hard but still end up doing quite well because things are going in the right direction.
‘I’ve seen Cork’s two home games against Kildare and Meath and I saw the Clare game on television and they were poor from what I saw. You can’t just put it down to confidence.
‘A lot of things looked to be off, like tactics, fitness and performance. I’m not privy to what’s going on but it didn’t seem apparent that there was a plan.
‘The reality is that you’d expect Tipp to beat Limerick and then Cork wouldn’t be overwhelming favourites against Tipp but they’d still be expected to win. That puts them into a Munster final and, without being harsh, they’re a good bit off Kerry.
‘Then you’re playing a qualifier to make it into the Super 8s but it comes down to the luck of the draw. Last year, they were unlucky to get Tyrone, which was probably the hardest they could have got.
‘The most realistic target to is try and survive in Division 2 and get some confidence from that.’
In order to do that, they must win, but should that be gung-ho against Donegal or still cagey?
‘I’d like to see them go for it a bit more,’ Kelly says, ‘but you can’t be reckless either.
‘Michael Murphy will probably be back for Donegal and he’s worth six or eight points, far and away the best player in the division, so first you look at quietening him.
‘The most important thing is not to be flip-flopping, to be clear in their approach. Donegal are further along the road than Cork and play a bit more open than before but you’d hope Cork wouldn’t go with a blanket defence.
‘They need to find the right balance.’
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