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Mourne men will give Cork a challenge

National Football League Division 3: Cork v Down, Sunday February 9, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 2pm

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Cork’s Mattie Taylor breaks away from the challenge of Leitrim’s Cillian McGloin during last Sunday’s Allianz NFL Division 3 clash in Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada. Photo by Willie Donnellan

Cork’s Mattie Taylor breaks away from the challenge of Leitrim’s Cillian McGloin during last Sunday’s Allianz NFL Division 3 clash in Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada. Photo by Willie Donnellan

Cork’s Mattie Taylor breaks away from the challenge of Leitrim’s Cillian McGloin during last Sunday’s Allianz NFL Division 3 clash in Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada. Photo by Willie Donnellan

Next up for Cork is a home clash against Down. The Mourne Men began their campaign with a draw against Tipperary before beating Derry last weekend, leaving them a point behind Cork in a tie for second place with Tipp and Longford.

So far, Cork have had to earn the right to play against both Offaly and Leitrim, but Rebels wing-forward Ruairí Deane doesn't necessarily expect that to be the case in every game. Down have a reputation for trying to play positive football and the Bantry Blues man is keen for Cork to focus on Cork first and foremost.

"We're just going out to try to play good football and get the best performance out of every individual and as a team," he said.

"We're not directly targeting any opposition, we know that there are no easy battles. We have Down next weekend, that should be a very tough game down in the Páirc. I can't say we're targeting trying to wear teams down and taking it as it comes, but we're definitely trying to play the best football that we can and get the best out of ourselves."

However, despite both sides sitting in the upper reaches of the table, it's too early to call it a promotion battle, Deane feels.

"You can't really look at it like that," he said.

"It's only your third league game, there's a good spell left there. It is one of the bigger tests you're going to come up against this year, they're a good footballing side, not too long ago they were playing Cork in the 2010 All-Ireland final.

"They're definitely a good side that you have to respect but we want to get the best out of ourselves too."

Likewise, Cork manager Ronan McCarthy expects a stiff test from Paddy Tally's men.

"To be fair, Down would have plenty of quality in their forward line and they had the Kilcoo lads back on Saturday night too," McCarthy said.

"I don't think Down would come down with any fear of going out and playing their football. I do think, with the way the game has gone, lots of teams - including Dublin and Kerry - do get men behind the ball and you have to be patient and keep the ball and make sure you don't get turned over.

"Regardless, we just have to keep trying to do that."

In terms of access to players who weren't available in Carrick-on-Shannon, McCarthy is optimistic.

"We should have a few back," he said.

"There was club Under 21 on Saturday and Sunday so we lost a few players owing to that. There's the Trench Cup on Friday so you take a guy like Cathail O'Mahony, who played last Thursday, then Sunday, Tuesday and Friday, it's quite unlikely that he'd be available for our game on Sunday.

"You have to do the right thing by the player. What we'll do is gather the bodies back, see how they are. We should have Paul Ring, Colm O'Callaghan, Damien Gore, Sam Ryan back for next week."

Another win would leave Cork on six points, needing only four more to reach the target of ten that McCarthy feels would guarantee promotion.

"I'd be certain that ten would get us up," he said.

"I know teams have gone up on eight in the past, some teams have not gone up on nine, but I don't think anyone has never not gone up on ten. That should get us up and the win brings us closer to that magic ten number but the main thing is that we look at the obstacle that's ahead of us.

"We need to do it week to week and do it in blocks. The first block, we have two of the three games played. We're going into week three, a home game, we're playing well, there's good competition for places in the team. We have a good team coming down to play us, but we should really be ready for it."

Last weekend's win in Leitrim left Cork on their own at the top of Division 3 of the Allianz Football League, but it took time to wear down the hosts and McCarthy was pleased that there was no complacency.

"On paper, yes we are a better and stronger team and everything else," he said, "but the attitude has to be right, physically and mentally.

"We would have drilled that home during our team meeting before the game. This was about attitude, coming into a difficult venue and a difficult pitch, in very, very challenging weather conditions.

"If you weren't up for the fight today, you were going to be found out very quickly. We were up for the fight. We matched them physically from the start and then as the game went on, we let our football do the talking."

Cork led by 1-7 to 0-3 at half-time after Ciarán Sheehan's injury-time goal, but three other goal chances were passed up in the first half as Leitrim goalkeeper Diarmuid McKiernan made good saves. A stronger conversion rate is something McCarthy wants to see as the league goes on.

"They are always tough places to come away from, difficult pitch, difficult conditions, we were comfortable in the end," he said.

"We were able to bring a lot of firepower off the bench to bring us home. My only criticism of the team is that we should have been further ahead at half-time.

"We had 1-7 on the board, 2-10 would have been a reasonable return for the chances we had. We didn't take the clear-cut goal chances we had again this week. They will come, we are creating the opportunities. All in all, a professional performance, we were never really in trouble and it is great to have the points on the board.

"We wanted to be classed as a top-eight team or a top-four team and if you are in that bracket, you must be clinical and ruthless when you have the opportunity. Look, we didn't take them and they were really clear-cut chances.

"That said, we are not going to beat ourselves up about it either. We'll keep working on it and just make sure we execute these opportunities when they come. But overall, a positive performance against a well-drilled side who brought plenty of energy and plenty of workrate. We always kept them at arm's length for most of the game, so from that point of view, it was reasonably comfortable.

"We had 2-6 worth of chances in the first-half that, if we had taken 1-3 of those, it would have put us 2-10 to 0-3 up at half-time and then you are sitting very comfortably. Because they had the wind in the second half, it could have potentially become a very difficult game for us.

"Thankfully, it didn't happen. That said, we were very controlled in the second half which is a very pleasing aspect of the performance. We kept the ball, waited for the opportunities, kept probing, when the opportunities came, we tacked on our scores."

Corkman