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Cork boss John Cleary parking McGrath Cup ahead of the National League

Castlehaven man admits Rebels have had a good pre-season, but the focus remains very much on Meath this weekend


Cork manager John Cleary with referee Brian Fleming after the McGrath Cup Final match between Cork and Limerick at Mallow GAA Grounds in Mallow, Cork. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Cork manager John Cleary with referee Brian Fleming after the McGrath Cup Final match between Cork and Limerick at Mallow GAA Grounds in Mallow, Cork. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Cork manager John Cleary with referee Brian Fleming after the McGrath Cup Final match between Cork and Limerick at Mallow GAA Grounds in Mallow, Cork. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile


John Cleary wasn’t willing to believe any kind of hype after Cork secured the McGrath Cup in Mallow last Friday night – instead the manager was happy to take the positives from the success and look to the future – the league the main focus as of now.

Cleary’s side had a solid pre-season tournament resulting in silverware on the shelf, but the man charged with bringing the good times back to Cork was fixed on the challenges ahead – even before his players left the Mallow GAA dressing rooms.

“It was a good pre-season competition, good preparation for the league,” said Cleary after the win.

“The most important thing is that we do well in the league but winning games, the confidence, the momentum. It’s been pleasing.

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“In a lot of occasions, we were trying some new things and the other teams were doing the same but still, this team needed to get a couple of wins under their belt, but now we are down to the business end of things. Still tonight was pleasing.”

Of course, the game on Friday night didn’t tick all the boxes, but even in the scoring stakes there was good and bad to take from the game.

“Look, we had two or three goal chances and didn’t take them so the tally of points [19] was good, but hopefully on another day we would get those goals – that said, some of our point taking was good and we didn’t have a lot of misses but as I said a couple of goals got away from us.”

Winning the McGrath Cup was the first goal for Cleary and his players and, despite the opposition along the way, a win is a win and momentum is important.

“Look, to call a spade a spade, we played a weakened Kerry team and Clare were down a few as well, but we entered the competition to try and win it and the lads went and won it so that is good, it’s a start.

"We will enter the league and take it one game at a time – our aim is to try and win the league and get up to Division 1 but it will be difficult – we know that.”

Despite playing down the success Cleary was able to identify a couple of things that showed his side were heading in the right direction.

‘We closed out of the game reasonably well whereas previously that might not have happened, so that’s pleasing. There was a bit of everything tonight – we played well at times, we left Limerick back into it, so a lot to learn from as well.”

While Cleary was happy with the result and the manner in which it was achieved, he was straight to the point when asked about what pleased him most.

“That we got no injuries. With all the guys that were playing Sigerson we were short of numbers so there were guys there we had to play them even though we didn’t want to. Those guys have to play again now during the week and we will see where we are then for next weekend.

“The other pleasing thing there tonight was that when Limerick came back twice when they got their goals we were able to hit back, get our scores and we didn’t wilt and that was ultimately the winning of the game.”

Cleary’s focus quickly turned to the meeting with Meath and the plans for what will be a big game for the Rebels.

“The plan will be to meet on the Sunday and review this game. Then we will do a bit of rest and recovery.

“The guys playing Sigerson will be playing up to Wednesday so they won’t be doing anything with us before we meet up on Friday again ahead of the Meath match – that really is all we can do but luckily enough we had these three games and they have been a very good part of the preparation.”

Like the supporters, the manager has seen Cork struggle in many league campaigns over the years and knows only too well how important it is to get off to a positive start.

“It is very important to get off to a positive start. We have seven games and I would say they are all good, tough games and all the teams in it will make it a dog-eat-dog – it is a hugely competitive Division 2 so we are only planning on taking it one step at a time and first up is Meath and we are just going to prepare for them and see if we can get off to a good start.”

The McGrath Cup afforded Cork the chance to use as many players as Cleary wanted and considering the way the game has been going in recent times the ability to make unlimited subs was obviously another pleasing aspect of the competition.

“This year we have big competition for places on the panel and we had a lot of fellows there tonight and still without the likes Conor Corbett, Ian Maguire, Cathail O’Mahony, who were all missing, so you can see there is competition for places, but that is the place you have to be in considering the way the games are going and looking at the teams we will be playing.

“You have to have impetus of the bench and that is what we are trying to build – we want to be able to play 21 every day and that should make us a stronger outfit.”

Cork have a tough start to the league coming with some of the big sides up front. However, despite the challenge Cleary is happy with the way the draw panned out.

“We have known that for a while and its good. When we got together at the end of November the draw really focussed the mind – but if you had so called easier games it might not have so - I think we are ready for it now and if we are good enough we are good enough and if not, so be it.”

Cork take on Meath this Sunday in Páirc Uí Chaoimh at 1.30pm. All eyes will be on John Cleary’s side as he takes charge of his first full campaign at the helm of Cork football.