Where do Cork rank at present in the inter-county standings as they await a new manager?
There are only three grades that really merit debate when one assesses the position of hurling in any county — minor, which was regraded to an U17 competition last season, U20, and senior.
Cork’s only major silverware at any of these levels since 2001 was in an U17 competition two years ago against Dublin. At U21 there is a long barren spell of 20 years since the last All-Ireland wound its way to Leeside.
However, success is difficult to define at these levels. Winning is a habit and it brings great confidence.
But with U20 and U17/18 players, it is not just about winning. Limerick lost the 2013 semi-final and the 2014 and 2016 minor finals. However, these teams provided nine players in their starting 15 in last year’s senior All-Ireland success.
Player development, including ball/stick skills, teamwork, physical and mental development are also important areas in bringing players to the next level. Winning is always preferable to losing but being ultra-competitive, by maximising the potential of the talent available, is the most important factor in underage development.
At U17 level, Cork have failed to reach a Munster final over the past two years. Contesting a provincial final provides the benefit of extra games against similar competition in high-pressure games. It was much the same team management that was involved both years.
All the individuals in the backroom, particularly the manager and skills coaches should have been involved in assessing their own performance and the performance of their team in a totally honest manner — and have this report made available to the incoming manager this year or the next. It should be the same at U21/U20 level.
Cork have development squads from U14. It is the managers and coaches at minor, U20 and senior level who know best whether these squads are being coached to the required levels. It is these managements that should be pointing out the team organisation and the ball skills required for inter-county level to coaches and managers of both these underage and top school squads.
It is the senior — down to minor — inter-county managers who should be setting the agenda for the hurling schools and development squads to prepare for inter-county competitions by strengthening the skills and eliminating deficiencies. The underage coaches would then be implementing pathway programmes by following an agreed blueprint of skill acquisition.
I met a Munster Council official last week in Thurles at the U20 game who expressed the opinion Cork had gone soft. Disabusing this notion could be a good starting point for inter-county development.
Time is always a major enemy with voluntary coaching. It is timely then that Cork GAA are in the process of appointing a full-time high performance director. She/he should have a major role in coordinating this process and Rebel Óg should be examining their competition structure to see if the club competitions are leading to improvements in skills etc.
Sometimes you are beaten by a better team. They win, or looking at it another way, you are beaten by virtue of their superior skills, strength, and fitness. In that scenario, nothing players and management could do would alter the result. On other occasions you lose not because the other team are superior but due to some deficiency on your part.
All campaigns should be forensically examined, particularly defeats, and the details should be available to any incoming management.
Of course, it is always the seniors that really matter. In each of the last three campaigns, Cork could have reached the All-Ireland final. There were a number of well-documented reasons why they didn’t and if they had reached the final there was every chance of a win.
John Meyler now steps down as manager having been involved as a selector previously with Kieran Kingston. Having been inside the camp and been involved on match days, both he and his management team will have access to a wealth of knowledge not known publicly. It is important that all this knowledge and wisdom is available to the incoming management.
I have mentioned from time to time Cork’s lack of goal awareness. It was obvious in the recent quarter-final with Kilkenny that improvements were made in this area at training by good coaching and organisation. It will never be perfect but this good work must be built on.
The new manager will seek new talent and he will need to make an important change or two — especially in defence. Players are a great resource for road-mapping for any new manager. Modern players are all used to self-assessment and articulating what went right and areas that can be improved.
I wish John Meyler and his management team well. They put in a huge commitment in a voluntary capacity over the past two years, just falling short. His successor, like all inter-county managers, will be judged on All-Ireland success.
I wish him well too.
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