Ciarán Murphy: Time for Galway and Kildare to grasp the nettle
Step up to Division One certainly not a test anyone should be backing away from now
Cork’s manager Peadar Healy: his side’s defeat to Clare was enough to prompt a wide-ranging reappraisal of Cork’s fortunes this year. Photograph: Inpho
Cork’s loss to Clare last weekend was the sort of result that was always liable to crash straight through the usual fixation with Division One of the football league and grab headlines. It’s not quite indicative of a more permanent changing of the guard in Munster football (not yet, anyway), but it was enough to prompt a wide-ranging reappraisal of Cork’s fortunes this year.
Cork and Down were relegated from Division One last spring, and while Down had such a wretched year in 2016 that no one really thought they were going to run away with Division Two, Cork were widely expected to have enough good footballers to go straight back up. It hasn’t worked out that way.
A missed 21-yard free from Colm O’Neill in the dying moments against Galway in the first game denied them a win they probably deserved, but since then they’ve lost convincingly to Kildare, beaten Fermanagh at home, and then lost again to Clare last weekend.
Having attended both Croke Park on Saturday, and Páirc Tailteann on Sunday for the Meath-Galway game, it’s clear that any length of time spent out of Division One is a problem. Cork may have thought that a spring in DivisionTwo would be good for a few easy Sunday afternoons and a morale-boosting series of victories, but they have been sorely mistaken. In fairness, no one in Cork football is that bullish any more.
It can be a rough old division to get out of – Galway have been there since they were relegated from the top tier in 2011, and have gone closer to going down than going up, only escaping relegation in 2014 because of a head-to-head result against Armagh that went their way.
The argument may have been in the past that a team might not be “ready” for Division One football – and that argument might still be heard in Galway and Kildare and Clare, the three teams currently at the right end of the Division Two table. But the time is now for Galway and Kildare, in particular. In the absence of Cork making a charge for promotion, those teams have to grasp the nettle.
There is a fear that players of that quality might start to get comfortable at a level where a single magnificent defence-splitting pass to win the game (as O’Sullivan provided on Sunday) is enough. It was enough last weekend, after all. But they owe it to themselves to test themselves more regularly at the top.
Monaghan won a shock Ulster title in 2013, and won promotion to Division One the following year. Since going up, they’ve had struggles, but they are established now. And every young player that comes into their squad is on a steep learning curve – step up to the first XV, and immediately be up against the best players in the game. Their introduction to intercounty football is at a totally different level.
Galway and Kildare should believe that they have it in their grasp to be as good as Monaghan. Kildare won’t have to try too hard to establish themselves as the second-best team in Leinster . . . if you look at the league tables as they stand right now, they already are. They’re on the opposite side of the draw to Dublin this year, so a Leinster final appearance is an eminently achievable aim.
Those games, against Dublin and Mayo barring a miracle, will define their years. It’s irrefutable that they would be in with a better chance of winning those games if they were in Division one this year. So they must make sure that come this time next year, they are where they need to be.
Every year in Division Two will do lasting damage to Cork football. Accepting mediocrity is not something that has come easy to Cork sportspeople in the past, but it’s in danger of creeping into their GAA teams. Galway and Kildare may have been guilty of that in the last three or four years in Division Two. No one is saying the step-up to Division One isn’t a test, but it’s certainly not a test anyone should be backing away from now.