A plea for patience is almost a trademark expression from an incoming coach but Ronan McCarthy’s call to Cork supporters differs. Level-headedness is his New Year wish.
Eoin Cadogan may have departed to the hurlers and Alan O’Connor retired but he knows the advances of all three county champions to the All-Ireland club stages on top of that gutsy extra-time defeat to Mayo in July have generated belief in Cork football.
McCarthy says the reasons for optimism are genuine but it’s not a time to be dreaming big. “People get into extremes. Cork football, it was said, was in the doldrums up to six months ago or whatever for two years, which was wrong. Yes, a couple of things have happened like Nemo doing well and Kanturk doing well and Knocknagree and suddenly now people are close to the other extreme. I’m not saying overly optimistic but I think we have to stand back a bit.
“Yes, there are a few shoots appearing and they indicate that things are moving in a positive direction but part of our role is to maintain that and add to it as much as we can. The positivity probably resurfaced after the Mayo game and we want that to continue but there also has to be realism. If we have a setback or two in the league, let’s not drop back into the negativity. Likewise, if we have a good run in the league, it’s not sorted either. We want to build consistently and we want to improve gradually. We don’t want massive ups and downs.”
The Douglas man isn’t setting out any aims. Returning to Division 1 and the Super 8 would be considered attainable ones but he’s not going to be a hostage to fortune. “I don’t generally do goals. You can look too far ahead at times and what you have to make do is concentrate on the present like the work we’re doing now pre-season and ensuring that is of a high quality.
“Going game to game is the best policy because look ahead and you can take your eye off the ball. I know some teams do write down a list of goals for the year but that’s not something I would do. Keeping things short terms and doing things in blocks is what I prefer.
“When you talk about short-term goals, promotion is obviously something we would hope to achieve. You have to be realistic and you must not take any game for granted and if you look at our run of games we’re away to three of the favourites (Down, Meath, Roscommon). That brings its own challenges because if you lose a game or two early on there is pressure immediately and it can be very hard to recover.
“We’ll be aiming for a good start to the league. Tipp are well-regarded and we’re away to Down and we can see where we are at that point. It’s Division 2 but it’s a tough league and those away games can be very difficult.”
He can promise one thing: Cork with him at the helm will attempt to play an attractive brand of football. “It’s a thing people like to talk about a lot. Our take on it is we want to be a positive team.
“To take a soccer term, we won’t be parking the bus or anything like that. We want the players to go out and express themselves. You obviously have to have an outline or some framework for players to operate in. We want to be forward-thinking and attacking.”
And he can promise another: those introduced to the panel will be given every opportunity to impress him and the rest of the management team. As the likes of Paul Kerrigan and Luke Connolly are club-tied and awaiting an All-Ireland semi-final with Slaughtneil at the end of February, others will be given their head during the league and their showcasing will be worthwhile, he insists.
“A big challenge for this group is dealing with the natural phenomenon of the 2010 team moving on. Some of them will remain with us for another couple of years but that group, bit by bit, is starting to retire. The challenge is to bring in new players into that and not to have too many people leaving so that you’re not trying to create players at the one time.
“Bringing players into the panel and giving them a realistic chance is a big thing for me. The day of bringing a guy in for a trial game or two, I don’t think that’s the way to go. You bring guys in and you give them a run in the National League, a good six to eight week stint of training. At least then at the end of it, you can say they’ve had an opportunity and you’re able to have had a good look at them so you can make a solid judgment.”
Natural wastage is a challenge for McCarthy as is the tightened scheduled of games in 2018 although he wants to see how things pan out before making any major declarations about the calendar.
“The early part of the season is fairly squeezed. Between the McGrath Cup and the league, there are a lot of matches in a fairly condensed period of time.
“The other thing is how April will play out regarding club fixtures if you’re preparing for championship in mid-May. That’s a wait and see. In the past, there were long waits between matches so we’ll have to see games on a frequent basis plays out.”
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