Thursday 25 April 2019

Division 3 threat sees Cork football facing darkest day

Cork manager Ronan McCarthy. Photo: Sportsfile
Cork manager Ronan McCarthy. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Just when Cork might have thought they had exhausted their biggest setback range for years comes the grim likelihood that their footballers are about to drop into Division 3.

It will happen next Sunday if they fail to beat Armagh and the Tipperary v Clare result doesn't go their way. It's only four years since Cork reached the Division 1 final after hitting Donegal for four goals in the semi-final, but since then it has been misery all the way, beginning with a thumping by Dublin in the final.

They have since won only nine of 28 league games, a dismal decline, which accelerated this season when their sole success came against Tipperary in Round 5.

It leaves Ronan McCarthy's strugglers trapped on the bottom rung of the ladder alongside Clare and Tipperary (all of three points), but with a far inferior scoring difference.

And with Tipperary playing Clare in Semple Stadium on Sunday, one of them (or both in the event of a draw) will improve their position.

Ironically, a Clare-Tipp draw would be good result for Cork, as it would give them a chance to leapfrog the other pair. Armagh are hot favourites, but since they are not in either the promotion or relegation zones, their motivation levels are unlikely to be as high as a Cork team desperate to avoid the ignominy of dropping into Division 3.

Cork have the worst defensive record in the group, leaving them with a -22 points difference, 13 worse than Tipperary and eight worse than Clare. It's a disappointing situation for Munster as two from that trio will be relegated, which means the province will have only one representative in Division 1 (Kerry) and Division 2 (Clare, Cork or Tipperary) next year.

Cork's decline could not have come at a worse time on another front also. Having played Kerry in Killarney while Páirc Uí Chaoimh was being redeveloped, they are owed a backlog of home fixtures with the Kingdom, which would normally be big money-spinners.

However, Cork's poor showing against Kerry in recent seasons has dulled the appetite for a rivalry which delivered so much drama down through the years.

Last year's Munster final attracted 27,400 to Páirc Uí Chaoimh but it's likely to be much smaller if there's a rematch this year, especially if Cork have dropped into Division 3.

Cork are paired with Tipperary or Limerick in this year's Munster Championship while Kerry will play the Clare-Waterford winners.

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