Tony Davis: Cork are where they should be

DOWN THE ROAD: Aideen Hogan taking part in the Borrisokane GAA road hurling challenge in Co Tipperary yesterday. Picture: Enda O’Sullivan

A second tier championship is exactly where Cork senior footballers deserve to be at the moment, according to former defender Tony Davis.

A report in The Irish Times on Saturday claimed Division 3 and 4 counties attended a meeting in Croke Park where two options were put to them - those bottom 16 teams enter the second tier championship unless they reach their provincial final or the Division 3 and 4 sides can play in one or two rounds of the All-Ireland qualifiers.

The report suggests there was more support for the first option and the intention is for the favoured proposal to be put forward at Special Congress later in the year.

As of now, the second tier would apply to Cork and Tipperary who were relegated from Division 2 last month and Davis says the current standing of the former just nine years after they claimed an All-Ireland title cannot be argued with.

The two-time All-Ireland winner backs the idea of stratifying the Championship and believes the League is the best way to do that.

I suppose it’s a fair reflection on where teams are. The competition in which you play the most games in the year is the League and it’s a fair barometer of where you stand.

"Dublin hammering teams in Croke Park is doing nobody any good whereas if you’re playing teams of your own ability you have competition, but to do that you must have some incentive so maybe if you won it you can get back into the Sam Maguire Cup.

“Cork are where they are and there’s no point in saying anything else. To improve Cork have to be more competitive. On their day, they can challenge teams like Mayo two years ago but they just haven’t been performing consistently. You can use all the excuses in the world why they haven’t but that’s where Cork are.”

Cork could be saved from the drop by reaching the Munster final, which is the option that Davis prefers, but he maintains not every county deserves a chance of winning an All-Ireland title when so many are incapable of achieving that goal.

“Staying in the Sam Maguire Cup if you get to a provincial final is a good idea. Years ago when Seán Kelly brought into the second tier championship, I’d have been going to games for years with RTÉ and lads were training all winter for two games.

“By the time the second game came around so many of them were heading for the States because they realised they didn’t have a chance. I know people argue every team should have a chance to win the Sam Maguire Cup but in real terms only four teams have a chance of doing that.”

Ronan McCarthy has taken a lot of criticism for Cork’s record of six defeats in their last nine Championship and League fixtures, but Davis is more concerned about what he has to make up teams.

“You have had three sets of selectors over the last five years and they have more or less picked the same panels of 30 to 35. Yes, you could say there are some players that aren’t involved that should be but when selectors are picking the same groups then that’s really what you have (to choose from).

“You have to work with what you have and find a system that suits them but over the last few years we really haven’t been producing the players that you require to play at the highest level.

“Any other top county, you could say going out on any day they have three marquee forwards who can each kick three or four points.

“We don’t have that. That’s not to say they’re not honest or workmanlike — they will give it everything. But to win at the highest level at the moment you need to have a bit of class in the forward line and we have to produce those players.

There’s no magic bullet — getting rid of the manager isn’t the answer. You just have to work hard until these players come along.

Davis feels Cork are close to their lowest stage in a cycle.

“You take the 2010 Cork group and how many of them won a Sigerson with CIT the year before — you have seven, eight or nine really top players. They all came together.

“I’m not too sure development or science had much to do with that. Most of Galway’s teams in 1998 and 2001 came together at the right time.

“Outside of Dublin and Kerry who constantly produce top players, the rest of the counties are cyclical. Tyrone have a base now where they will produce these players because they have a fine set-up and good minor and U20 teams are coming through. Their schools are strong too but ours aren’t outside of Rochestown and Críost Rí the odd time.”

Not that he is resigned but Davis hasn’t much expectations about Cork this summer other than being respectable.

“You know what, Cork will do what they can do. You’d hope they go out and do their best. It’s not like they can go out and buy Paul Pogba. Outside of the few counties who can win the All-Ireland, you’re playing for provincial titles or respectability. I would hope they are good enough to compete.”

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