Cork’s 2010 All-Ireland captain Graham Canty has warned people not to read too much into the team’s heartening defeat against would-be All-Ireland runners-up Mayo last summer, writes John Fogarty.
Mayo just about survived the fourth round qualifier scare in Limerick as Cork forced extra-time through a Luke Connolly last-gasp free and led by two points after the first additional period before Mayo reeled them in.
Even though several players will be unavailable to new manager Ronan McCarthy for at least the early part of their Division 2 campaign which begins at home to Tipperary on Saturday, Canty agrees there is positivity about the footballers going into this season.
However, he wants to see Cork now back up that performance against Mayo.
“I wouldn’t hang my hat on one performance from last year. They played well against Mayo for 90 minutes in the Gaelic Grounds.
“Mayo went on and improved dramatically from that game. They went from strength to strength after it. They had a replay against Roscommon but they really improved following the Cork game. The more exposure they got in Croke Park, they better they got.
“You’d like to see more performances like that from Cork so that the manager and players can learn from it.”
McCarthy will be afforded a bedding-in period although Canty says he has to be mindful of not tinkering too much to ensure they are not drawn into a relegation dogfight.
“You’ve opportunities to experiment in Division 2 but if results start going against you, you could be caught in relegation. It’s very competitive, not as competitive as Division 1 which Ronan and the lads will be aspiring to, but it’s a case of one step at a time for a team that is building.”
Putting themselves in the running for promotion and a Super 8 spot in July are realistic goals for Cork although Canty believes last year’s fourth-place finish in Division 2 was precisely where they deserved to finish.
“I think the way the league structure at the moment is a good barometer of where teams are. Cork are not at the top table and were in the middle of Division 2 last year and that is probably an accurate reflection of where they are at the moment.”
McCarthy spoke over the Christmas period about his reluctance to “park the bus”. Canty underlines the importance of devising a structure to accommodate the type of footballers he will have at his disposal.
“I think Ronan and the lads that are with them will quickly understand the players that are available to them and developing the system that best suits the players they have to get performances and results. I’d be a believer in creating a system that complements the players.”
Both Clare in last year’s league and Tipperary in the 2016 Munster championship now know what it is to beat Cork and the Bantry Blues man sees them as serious opponents in Division 2 and beyond this season. “Their victories are a reflection on the work being done in football in Clare and Tipperary and Munster in general.”
Canty’s last game for Cork came in the five-point All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Dublin five years ago.
He’s since seen them blossom under Jim Gavin into a force of nature and knows they see the potential for more success in themselves: “They don’t lose games. League and championship, they’ve lost very few over the last four years.
“I was listening to Jason Sherlock (at the GAA coaching conference) and I was worried to hear him say that in their set-up they wouldn’t have been too happy with their performances over the last couple of years.
“Yes, he said they were winning but maybe some of their performances weren’t as good as they could be. To hear that is worrying.”
However, Canty believes Mayo give the rest of the pack hope having gone so close in their three final games these past two years.
“Mayo can match them. Mayo have matched them, gone toe-to-toe with them and proved they are as good as them.
“They haven’t been able to beat them in championship but there’s no reason why other teams can’t follow their example and get up to that mark of challenging Dublin. It’s not that Dublin are miles ahead but they know how to win.”
This story first appeared in the Read More: Irish Examiner.