Cork football selector Eoin O’Neill described the criticism after their eight-point loss to Clare as “over the top” and “unjustifiably severe”.
It’s been another turbulent spring for Peadar Healy’s side, with the 2-11 to 0-9 defeat away to Clare – Cork’s first competitive loss to the Banner since 1997 – leading to fresh criticism from supporters, former Cork players and pundits outside the county.
The Rebels have managed just one win from their opening four games in Division 2 and while promotion to the top-flight was their target, the battle to avoid relegation is now the priority. O’Neill accepts their performance at Cusack Park simply didn’t cut it but remarked the constant knocking of players and negative commentary towards the camp isn’t helping matters.
He reasoned: “We all want to win and we all want Cork teams doing better. But results haven’t been what we’ve wanted. A lot of the criticism has come from within the county. There is a lot of negativity in Cork towards the Cork teams. A lot of the stuff going out there is fairly severe. Some of the criticism is justified. Some is not. A lot of the criticism is reactionary, very sensationalist headlines.
“People have their opinion. People go on social media and express those opinions. It certainly doesn’t help. We’re not making excuses either. I don’t want to come across as having a whinge or that we shouldn’t expect to be criticised after losing to Clare. The level of criticism can be a little bit over the top, though. You see in other counties, if there’s criticism of that county then former players will come out and defend their own guys. They’ll back them up and get behind them. I’ve seen Eddie Brennan doing it (with Kilkenny). That is the way a lot of other counties do it. In Cork, it seems to be very negative. When you fail, it is just massively exaggerated. Inquests are mentioned.
“Nobody here is getting paid to do this. Everyone here is giving absolute honest effort on a voluntary basis. You can see why the players’ mentality can be damaged. They are only human beings. They have to live with this criticism.”
Between 2010 and 2015, Cork contested four Division 1 league finals. Three ended in victory. But since the 2015 defeat to Dublin, the county’s graph has fallen sharply. There was the 1-21 to 1-13 qualifier defeat to Kildare, relegation from the league’s top tier the following spring, a first championship defeat to Tipperary since 1944, the struggle against Longford in a third round qualifier and then the eight-point defeat to a Clare team without Gary Brennan. Comparisons with past teams and past successes, according to O’Neill, doesn’t do anyone any favours. It’s not going to reverse the Ennis result or buy them a ticket back to Division 1.
“The Cork jersey has been associated with winning for the history of its existence. There’s an expectation amongst Cork people because of that. There has to be realism too. That group that was winning leagues is gone. That is a different group. That was yesterday. Today is today. That group were in Division 2 before they came up. It doesn’t happen overnight. You have to work steadily towards it. There are peaks and troughs. Things happen. You have got to persevere, believe in the lads you are working with and learn as you go. That is what we are doing.”
Amongst the sharpest criticism directed at this team over the past fortnight was Joe Brolly’s assessment Cork is “lost, disorganised and demoralised, without structure and without a leader.”
“When is the last time Joe Brolly saw us play?” O’Neill replied. “I haven’t seen Joe Brolly at any of our games. If Joe Brolly wants to say those kinds of things, I am not going into a war of words with Joe Brolly. Come and see us and then give an assessment of what we’re like. Don’t say things without even seeing us.”
Meath are the visitors to Páirc Uí Rinn tomorrow in what is a must-win fixture for the Rebels if they are to avoid being dragged into a relegation scrap during the final two rounds. For management, churning out a performance and rebuilding confidence is at the top of their itinerary. “In the second-half against Clare, instead of expecting it to happen, we didn’t make happen. That is what is disappointing. That small lack of confidence is something we’ve been working on for the last two weeks just to see why we react the way we react when things go a little bit wrong.
“That is what we’ve been putting effort into. It is obvious we have to get them a little bit more resilient. If we can get a bit better at working our way through rough patches in matches and it is a step-by-step process, it won’t be fixed overnight, so if we could get a little bit better in this department on Sunday, then we could try and take it another step next time out. What hasn’t been difficult since the Clare defeat has been getting out on the field with the lads because they’ve been absolutely top class. I couldn’t speak highly enough of this group.”
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