All-Ireland-winning captain Graham Canty reckons Cork can no longer be considered a top-10 football county — and has warned that breaking back into the championship elite is a far tougher proposition than it was in his heyday.
Canty, one of the authors of the Cork 2024 report seeking to revive Cork’s football fortunes, applied a stark barometer of how far Cork football has fallen when he reminded followers that the Rebels are a mid-table Division 2 side these days.
“That’s where we have operated in the last couple of years, that’s where results suggest we are — in or around 12th in the country. That (position) is probably a fair reflection on where we are.”
He said he was still in contact with a lot of the Cork players and there was still a huge amount of work and effort going in from the current playing group, but the landscape has now changed.
“It’s much harder to climb back up the ladder now,” he said yesterday, “and that’s why we have brought in this plan. It needs a better structured approach, more synergies, everyone looking and going in the one direction.
“In the past, with a little luck and a very good playing crop, you were able to move up the ladder quicker, but the way counties have progressed now, that’s much harder. A good group of players does not guarantee you success now. We need more sustainable structures, a bigger squad. This plan will help develop a squad in the future.”
Canty warned: “We are definitely at a low ebb. And unless we act, we are not going to improve and could potentially dis-improve further.”
County Board chair Tracey Kennedy said: “We could probably muddle along at a certain level in football, but that is not going to get us back to where we want to be. We need everybody, this is a call to arms.”
Former Cork manager Brian Cuthbert said reconnecting with the supporters is a chicken and egg situation. Which comes first? “We are all involved with our clubs and working very hard there. That consumes people. If Cork football isn’t performing, it’s very easy to put it on the back burner. The beauty of this plan is there is something for everyone. So, if standards improve, there is an obvious knock-on effect for Cork. Cork becomes successful again and people want to get behind it.
“There’s now a roadmap and a pathway for all of us. It is very important that self-interest is left at the door, regardless of what position we hold now. We all recognise we have potential that’s somewhat untapped and we need to find it. Find what’s the button that untaps this potential to allow the county take off to a place where everyone is in Croke Park extremely proud of what they are witnessing and supporting in a red jersey.”
Getting the club game right in Cork would be progressive in itself. While shaking up the county championship and county league structures is tied into a broader strategic review, guaranteeing a regular fixture programme at league level would remove a lot of player and club frustrations. Cuthbert has seen how county leagues operate in Kerry and likes the structure where every club, if ambitious enough, has the facility to go all the way to the top division.
“That should go all the way from Division 1 down to a full-county Division 10, though maybe the last couple of divisions would be regionalised as they would involve smaller clubs. The day that comes into play would be a very good day for Cork football because now we (would) have a seamless progression up and down through a league system. There has to be nominated times in the year also when inter-county players come back and play with their clubs in certain league games. Once that was agreed at the start of every year I don’t think inter-county managers would have a problem.”
“There has to be a rigidly enforced fixtures calendar for the full year,” said Kennedy. “If we had that everything else would be easier to manage. What we are getting very strongly from players is that they want certainty, so we must come up with a competition structure bearing in mind the vagaries of the inter-county set-up, that will increase at least the level of certainty available.”