With changes to the football championship structures coming into effect in 2020 the Allianz Leagues have become more crucial than ever before.
With only the top 16 teams guaranteed to compete for All-Ireland honours, more emphasis has been placed on Division two and three of the league as the final standings in both dictate who will be competing in the newly-formed second-tier championship.
After dropping down a division in 2019 all eyes will be on Cork over the coming months. Historically, the Rebel footballers have been viewed as a true heavyweight of Gaelic football, however, failure to get promotion will result in their relegation out of the race for Sam Maguire.
Mark Collins is well aware of what’s at stake and the Castlehaven man knows there’s one way for Cork to fix the predicament they find themselves in (unless they beat Kerry in the Munster semi-final).
“I suppose every year when you start off, the League is important to you,” Collins said at the Allianz Leagues 2020 launch.
“Last year was obviously disappointing to get relegated down to Division three. 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.”
Starting well is something that Cork have failed to do in the past number of seasons.
With Offaly the visitors to Páirc Uí Chaoimh in two week’s time, Collins is looking at the clash with the Faithful county as an opportunity to get their season off and running on a positive note.
“I was thinking there coming up today we probably haven’t won our first game in the League in three or four years so the Offaly game in two weeks’ time is probably a good place to start, so that’s something to look forward to.”
Cork’s longest-serving player, Paul Kerrigan, recently claimed a county of its size shouldn’t be competing in Gaelic football’s third tier.”
Collins agrees with the point made by his colleague and claims now is the time for the players to drag the county out of the doldrums.
“I suppose 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.”
However, that is easier said than done. Especially given what’s at stake in this year’s league campaign.
Collins is fully aware of the battle that lies ahead over the coming months.
“Looking at it, there’s no easy games in it.
“We’ve a couple of very tough games up the country. Leitrim and Longford away, you’re not going to get anything easy up there. And a couple of good northern teams at home.
“We know that if we’re not tuned in and if we’re not prepared right that we’ll have tough games.”