Saturday 25 January 2020

Counihan hopes to put clamps on Kerry hopes in Pairc showdown

Cliona Foley

PAIRC Ui Chaoimh is going to get an overdue facelift soon, but first, its reputation as the Rebel Fortress looks set to be severely tested by the old enemy tomorrow.

Supporters have been warned to watch where they're parking at the big double-header Leeside because the clampers will be out in force.

With an estimated 12,000-15,000 expected for a double-header that includes Cork/Kerry in football there will be a championship feel about this one and parking spaces will definitely be at a premium.

Under Conor Counihan's stewardship, Cork's footballers have a remarkable record.

He arrived mid-February 2008 after a divisive strike, yet they still avoided relegation and won the Munster title.

In 2009, they won Division 2 and contested the All-Ireland final.

A year later they were Division 1 and All-Ireland champions and even last year, when they were blighted with injuries, they retained their league title and continued an unbeaten home league record that now stretches to 23 months.

Cork have lost just one of their last 14 league games at the Pairc -- to Mayo in April 2010 -- so they're in no mood for surrendering that record, especially to their Munster arch-rivals.

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In Counihan's time, the notion of 'only the league' seems anathema to them and now they don't just face Kerry, but the only Division 1 team (allowing for Dublin/Mayo having a game in hand) with a better record than them this year.

The two sides ran up big scores against Donegal and Laois last week, but it's the Kingdom -- apart from that major hiccup against Armagh in Tralee -- who top the table, one point clear.

With Laois to come in Killarney, Kerry's chances of clinching a semi-final spot with time to whistle look good.

Victory over Cork this weekend would do that even earlier, so some wondered if Jack O'Connor would stick with the youngsters that have won three from four so far.

He has done just that and his decision to hold Tomas O Se on the bench (back after a two-game ban), is a big vote of confidence in new wing-backs Peter Crowley (21) and Brian McGuire (22) and the likes of Barry John Keane (21), James O'Donoghue (21) and most recent recruit Patrick Curtin.

Full-back remains a quandary. Tom O'Sullivan looks unlikely to return at this stage and Aidan O'Mahony is the latest to get the call after Daniel Bohan's injury.

O'Mahony faces usual Cork midfielder Aidan Walsh, picked at full-forward after last week's excellent debut there, in an intriguing match-up.

The Rebels undoubtedly have more to prove -- and lose -- in this game.

With Mayo (away) and Dublin (home) to come, the pressure to secure their semi-final spot is tightening.

They had never previously lost consecutive games under Counihan, but Jekyll and Hyde outings sum up their form to date.

The shock of drawing with Armagh first day out was erased by racking up four goals against Down.

Then came that disaster in Ballybofey, when they couldn't break down Donegal's defensive wall and scored just 0-6.

Laois suffered a 2-14 backlash, but can Cork now put two in-a-row together against the toughest of opposition?

They're still without Ciaran Sheehan (cruciate) and Daniel Goulding (ankle), two losses seen as central to last summer's demise.

But with Michael Shields back after a two-match ban and dual star Eoin Cadogan available this week, they are getting closer to full-strength.

Mark Collins of Castlehaven, who plays in UCC with Peter Crowley and started in Cork's first three games, is being touted as a serious centre-forward prospect.

But he's the only 'new' player to come through this year whereas Kerry, who've had so little underage success recently, have noticeably produced some rabbits from their hat this season. Tomorrow's clash represents these newcomers' biggest test to date and should give a strong guide to the summer.

Irish Independent

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