Despite the poor results of recent years, Ronan McCarthy believes there remains an air of entitlement around Cork football.
Cork begin a third consecutive spring in the second tier away to Fermanagh tomorrow afternoon, with the county having failed to challenge for promotion in either 2017 or 2018.
External to his group, McCarthy is of the opinion there exists a sense Cork are out of place in the lower tier. His own view does not chime, adamant that the county has no “divine right” to be back at the league’s top table. If Cork want to rejoin the game’s standard-bearers in Division 1, then they must earn that return ticket.
“We have to stop going out, Cork football, and kinda feel that we are entitled to anything,” stressed the Cork manager.
Is tradition and past successes responsible for this sense of entitlement? For there has been little by the way of silverware in recent years to feed such an attitude.
“I go back to when I was playing myself. We won a couple of Munsters and got to the All-Ireland final, so we were considered a top-level team. But I remember being beaten by Wicklow in Aughrim in the national league, being beaten by Clare in the McGrath Cup in Ennis and having real close shaves with Limerick in the Munster Championship.
“We have no divine right [to anything]. Yes, there is a huge tradition in Cork, no question about it, and a huge tradition of producing quality footballers, but you must go out and earn the results you get. I think people have to be realistic about that; you must go out and earn it.”
While we’re on the subject of realism, 2010 All-Ireland winning Cork captain Graham Canty, speaking at the launch of the county’s five-year football plan, applied a stark barometer to gauge how far Cork football has fallen, reminding followers that the Rebels are a mid-table Division 2 side these days.
Whether or not Cork can continue to consider themselves a top-10 football county doesn’t bother McCarthy. Football rankings, in his view, tend to be fickle enough.
“If you get a run of results and you get a bit of momentum, be it through the league or through the championship, teams can very quickly be considered a top-four or top-six team. Tipperary were in an All-Ireland semi-final in 2016, so I don’t get into that too much.
“What I look at is that we have hugely talented players, definitely players that are capable of playing at the top level of inter-county football, but talk is cheap. It is up to us, the management team and players, to deliver.”
A string of performances they can stand over and be proud of, more so than promotion, is what they want to deliver this spring, what they need to deliver.
Galway manager Kevin Walsh is extremely fond of referring to “end of year accounts” as a way of determining whether his side have achieved their targets. The 2018 ledger, from a Cork perspective, made for unpleasant reading. McCarthy knows there is far more in his Cork side than what was shown in those chastening and humbling losses to Kerry and Tyrone.
“I won’t accept that the players are not there. You’ve young Kevin Flahive coming through; you have an absolutely brilliant goalkeeper in Mark White at 20 years of age; the usuals in Ian Maguire, Brian Hurley, Luke Connolly, Ruairi Deane. I could keep going. There are very good players there and it is up to me and the rest of the management team to get more out of them.”
This time last year, Cork lost their grip on their opening league fixture at home to Tipperary when conceding 2-4 without reply midway through the second half. It was a trend which continued into the summer months and one that cannot be allowed to repeat itself in 2019.
“Games can go away from you very quickly because of the quality of teams you are playing. That is one of the issues we’ve tried to address to make sure we are that bit more solid and resilient in periods of games where the opposition is on top.
“We have the work done to suggest we can go up there and get something [in Enniskillen]. Have we the players to do it? We do. Will we do it? Let’s see.”