THE Cork footballers will get their first taste of competitive action in 2013 when they take on CIT in the opening round of the McGrath Cup at CIT Grounds next Sunday.
The Rebels' line-out is likely to bear little or no resemblance to that which contested last year's All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal as the management will be anxious to run the rule over several upand-coming hopefuls before finalising the panel for the forthcoming National League.
That's the way it has been in recent seasons, and it didn't prevent Cork from winning the trophy last year when they comfortably accounted for Clare, 2-14 to 0-7, and CIT, 2-17 to 0-7, in turn before dispatching Tipperary with similar ease in the final at Clonmel.
The team that finished 013 to 0-5 winners over Tipp contained just six players - Ray Carey, Michael Shields, Paudie Kissane, Pearse O'Neill, Fintan Goold and Paul Kerrigan - who were later involved over the course of last year's championship, although such as Graham Canty, Pa Kelly and Colm O'Neill were included in the starting fifteen for the semi final win over CIT.
Alan O'Connor lined out at midfield in the opening test against Clare, but the main emphasis was on monitoring the form of the fringe players, and that will again be the case when Cork begin the defence of the McGrath Cup against CIT.
Cork boss Conor Counihan confirmed that it will be largely an experimental side that will thrown down the gauntlet to the students, although he said it won't be until the morning of the game that the selectors will know for sure what sort of shape the team is likely to take.
"It's always difficult to know who's going to be available at this time of year, but the McGrath Cup gives us an opportunity to look at a few new players, and it's of great benefit in this regard.
"We will also be looking at players who are tied up with Third Level College teams, and there is no better way of assessing a fella's form than in competitive matches.
"It's all very well to be doing the work in training, but, in terms of assessing our options, it's very important to get in as many games as we can before the start of the league. And we will be hoping for another good run in the McGrath Cup, because we felt it did us no harm to get to the final and to win it last year," Counihan remarked.
Stressing that the priority will be to run the rule over some fresh blood, Counihan revealed that the team for the clash with CIT will include a few of the more established players as well.
"We will have a reasonable mix, and we will be hoping to get a couple of wins at least, although we won't be taking anything for granted against CIT, despite the fact that we beat them easily enough last year.
"There are one or two fellas involved with CIT that we will be watching closely, and, while they aren't on the official panel at the minute, it's very much an open door, so they would certainly come into the reckoning if they were to impress.
"Ciaran Sheehan is away on holidays, so he won't be playing with CIT, while we don't know what the situation is regarding Aidan Walsh.
"Aidan is now with DCU, but there is an appeal on that, and we can't say if he will be available to us on Sunday, but whether or which, I'd be hopeful the team we put out will get our season off to a positive start," stated Counihan.