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'There's probably an added significance' - why Cork must hit the ground running in 2020

The Rebels and Mark Collins recognise the importance of the upcoming league campaign.

Mark Collins was in attendance at the Allianz Football League 2020 launch in Dublin.
Mark Collins was in attendance at the Allianz Football League 2020 launch in Dublin.
Image: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

DIVISION 3 OF the Allianz Football League could well be the most exciting inter-county competition in the spring with a guaranteed place in the Sam Maguire Cup on offer for the two promoted sides. 

Following the introduction of the Tier 2 competition, third-tier teams must either finish in a top-two spot or reach a provincial final to compete for the main prize.

For a county like Cork, who tend to take a while to get going in the league, it gives the competition added importance. Especially since they’ve been handed a difficult tie against rivals Kerry in the Munster semi-final, after the removal of seedings in the southern province.

The prospect of taking part in a Tier 2 competition a decade on from their 2010 All-Ireland victory is not something that would sit well Cork, particularly after their promising run to the Super 8s last summer and the All-Ireland success of their minors and U20s.

A home tie against Offaly in round 1 gives the Rebels the perfect chance to get off to a good start.

“I suppose every year when you start off the league is important to you,” says Mark Collins.

“Last year was obviously disappointing to get relegated down to Division 3. As you say, there’s probably an added significance with the top two promoted getting into Sam Maguire. There’s only one way we can fix that and that’s to go back up, but we have to start well. 

“We probably haven’t won our first game in the league in three or four years so the Offaly game is probably a good place to start, so that’s something to look forward to. 

“If you looked at it three, four, five years ago, Cork were competing for Division 1 titles on a continuous basis. That’s where a county the size of Cork should be. Unfortunately, the last few years haven’t gone as planned and it’s probably time to start putting things right now.

“And, as I said, the only we can do that is starting in a couple of weeks’ time with the first game against Offaly.” 

mark-collins Rebels forward Collins in action against Tipperary during the McGrath Cup. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Collins is entering his 10th campaign with Cork seniors, having made his debut in 2011 – the year after their last Sam Maguire success.

The intervening campaigns have featured several peaks and troughs, though more of the latter as Cork dropped from the top flight to Division 3. 

“It’s been a bit of a disappointment, to be honest,” he admits.

“When I first came on the panel, we were competing for Division 1 and, you know, the aim was to win the All-Ireland. Plus I was involved in a couple of very good U21 teams and you were hoping that the breakthrough was going to come.

“Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and we’ve chopped and changed with managers over the time and haven’t performed as players.”

The Douglas man reckons the commitment levels haven’t overly changed throughout the years, despite the number of high-profile players who’ve opted out in 2020. 

“Obviously it is a huge commitment, you are out five or six nights a week. On top of that, you’ve got to look after yourself the nights you’re not there. There hasn’t been a huge difference over the years now, when I first came into the panel, it was a very professional Cork team that were obviously competing for All-Irelands.

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“They’d great leaders who drove the standards in everything. So to be honest with you there hasn’t been a massive change.”

Has he ever considered taking a year out of the game?

“No, as I said, I keep repeating myself but when I first came onto the panel Cork were competing for All-Irelands.

“So since I was a kid it was always what I wanted to do, that was play for Cork and if you’d a chance of winning an All-Ireland, you’re going to bite at the chance so the times I was probably able to go to America on J1s or stuff before I started working, Cork was more important to me at that time.

“But yeah, we’ve lost Mark White our goalkeeper now, he’s decided to go to America this summer but you have seen that there’s fellas not willing to give the commitment. I suppose it is a massive commitment so it’s not hard to understand either.”

brian-hurley Hurley takes on the Tyrone defence during the Super 8s. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Collins has featured on almost every line of the field during his inter-county career. Last spring he spent time as a sweeper before thriving closer to goal alongside his close friend and clubmate Brian Hurley in the summer.

“If I can get anywhere in that forward line I’d be delighted so I’d take any place on that forward line to be honest.

“I get on very well with Brian, he’s one of my best friends. We lived with each other in Cork for four years so we probably know each other like the back of our hands. I’ve played with Brian since I was 14 or 15 so I’d know him unbelievably well.

“We’re probably lucky, we came on the Castlehaven scene together and we played an awful lot of matches together so I suppose you just get used to each other over the years.”

Hurley has come through a couple of serious hamstring injuries and Collins saw him at a few low points along the way.

“To be honest with you there’s probably not a lot of fellas who would have got back from where he came from. I remember there was one night in Douglas when he thought it was over for him.

“He was at a low place but the drive he showed to get back was absolutely crazy. As I said not many fellas would have got back from where he was. But that’s the kind of personality he has.

“If you knocked him down 10 times he’d probably get up 11 – he’s that pig-headed. He’s just a strong individual and that’s the way he is.” 

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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