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Former Cork footballer Colm O'Neill pictured at the launch of the EirGrid Under 20 Football Championship.
Former Cork footballer Colm O'Neill pictured at the launch of the EirGrid Under 20 Football Championship.

Colm O'Neill hoping for Cork improvement

By Cian O'Connell

It has been a strange spell for Colm O'Neill, who retired from Cork senior duty last year before making a swift return to the inter-county game as a selector with Keith Ricken's Under 20 team.

Being involved at that level has eased with the transition, but O'Neill jokes about the switch from corner forward to coach. "If you said to me this time 12 months ago that I'd be involved with the Cork 20s as selector - back when I was preparing for a Munster final, I would have nearly laughed at you, but I must say I'm enjoying it," O'Neill states.

"It's an easy enough job when you have the commitment from the players and when their clubs aren't pulling out of you. The County Board are very supportive too so it's very enjoyable. It all kicks off in the next few weeks and it'll run like a shot and be over before we know it too so, it'll be a good few weeks."

Tony Leahy steered a Cork team featuring O'Neill to All Ireland Under 21 glory back in 2007 with several of that team emerging as formidable players in the blood red and white jersey in the senior ranks.

"It's no secret that when we were in the All-Irelands in 2009 and 2010, the backbone of that team was the 2007 and 2009 under-21 teams," O'Neill remarks.

"Kerry are probably well placed at the moment with all the minor success - now listen it's not automatic either that just you're good as a minor or under-21 that it will transfer to senior, but it definitely helps and it's all about the conveyor belt. If you can add in three or four good lads, it certainly makes a good bit of a difference to the senior set-up."

Following a harrowing 2018 Championship and relegation to Division Three of the Allianz Football League it has been a demanding spell for Cork.

Former Cork footballer Colm O'Neill before the 2018 Munster SFC Final.
Former Cork footballer Colm O'Neill before the 2018 Munster SFC Final.

"Yeah, obviously look, this year has disappointed," O'Neill admits. "Getting relegated to Division Three is a bit of a setback alright, but I would be always trying to take the positives. Like, the first few round of the Leagues maybe Cork were trying to come at it with a game plan that didn’t suit them and eventually it came back to bite them in the end because I think they won the last three league games.

"The results at the start came back to bite them, but I don’t think that this current group can naturally worry about that now.

"That League campaign, there’s a line drawn in the sand now and they don’t have to worry about it next year because they’ll be playing in Division Three. but if Cork can be competitive and maybe make the Super 8s this year it mightn’t be so bad heading into Division Three next year.

"I can't say here now that they are going to go straight back up to Division Two because obviously Tipperary have come back down and there’s always a team who’s going to go on a bit of a run so it’s going to be an interesting and competitive League next year."

O'Neill is hopeful Ronan McCarthy's Cork can examine Kerry's resolve at Pairc Ui Chaoimh in Saturday's Munster decider. "I was actually at the Limerick match, obviously, Limerick didn’t perform as well as they’d have liked, but I think was impressed by how clinical Cork, they got the job done efficiently, there was no messing around.

"It’s hard to know where they are at. I know Kerry weren’t as convincing against Clare. I’m not sure where they’re at either so it’s going to be interesting.

"I’m sure Ronan and the lads have done a lot of work and video analysis and maybe try to learn a few things from last year. It’s the majority of the same players so I’m sure that last year’s Munster final will still be fresh in the memory so it’ll hopefully be the motivation that they need as well."

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