New dilemma for Cork as O’Connor joins exodus

Cork football manager Brian Cuthbert admits the retirement of Alan O’Connor leaves the Rebels light at midfield, but he has challenged prospective candidates to stake their claim for a spot.

O’Connor’s retirement was announced by the Cork County Board last night, and given it follows the departures of Pearse O’Neill and captain Graham Canty, who both operated there this year, it creates a vacancy.

“There are certainly one or two positions up for grabs in midfield now,” Cuthbert said last night.

“That’s what happens though, it’s the way the cards have fallen and it’s up to the players there now to prove that they deserve a shot.

“It’s only November now and we’re not playing in the McGrath Cup until January and not in the league until February, so we’ll see where we are then.”

Twenty-eight-year-old O’Connor, originally from Dublin, settled in Kealkil in West Cork with his family as a teenager and played for the local St Colums side, with whom he played in the county JAFC final against Mitchelstown last week.

He had been named in Cuthbert’s winter training squad, but was mulling over a decision in the interim.

“It’s not a surprise,” Cuthbert said. “I had been talking to Alan for the last couple of weeks and he was waiting until the junior championship was over before he made a final decision.”

With O’Neill, Canty, goalkeeper Alan Quirke, Paudie Kissane, Noel O’Leary and O’Connor — who also represented Cork in minor hurling — now retired, and Ciarán Sheehan having joined AFL side Carlton, Cork are now without seven of last year’s team.

Cuthbert, appointed to replace Conor Counihan last month, is aware that big figures have left the dressing room but that creates opportunities for others.

“These are all players that will be hard to replace, Alan is one of those, he was always very committed when he wore the Cork jersey,” he said. “There is a chance for someone else now and you’d hope whoever does come in will share the same attributes as him. His dedication and attitude were a real example and he embodied all that was good about Cork GAA.

“Obviously, you’d love if all of these good players stayed playing forever, but that doesn’t happen and things change. You move on and adapt, the players who are gone will be replaced and then the players who come in will have to be replaced themselves someday.”

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