YESTERDAY’S defeat at the hands of Tipperary brought more pain and frustration for Cork supporters, who only 12 months ago enjoyed a double-digit hammering of the same opposition.
Tipperary improved from that performance last year and won the All-Ireland; Cork never reached those heights again.
There was a rare gloom among many Cork supporters in the build-up to yesterday’s game, one that goes beyond doubts about a team selection, and that gloom provokes wider questions, principally whether or not hurling is in decline in Cork.
For the disgruntled on Leeside, there is plenty of fodder for their argument: the dozens of full-time hurling coaches in Dublin compared to the five in Cork. The 10-year drought at minor level. The loss of Donal O’Grady as a coach to Limerick, having been rejected by the Cork County Board. With him on Shannonside is former Cork trainer Jerry Wallace, who pointed out the lack of a player fitness database in Cork as he left.
Another acclaimed physical trainer, Sean McGrath, has no involvement with hurling in Cork at all; he tours schools in Leinster advising on physical fitness, including Kilkenny schools. Which means future Kilkenny hurlers.
Comparisons are also made with counties Dublin, Clare, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford, where county managers and selectors are drawn from the cohort of players who played in the last decade.
In Tipperary, for instance, the second-last man to captain the county to an All-Ireland, Tommy Dunne in 2001, is now a selector doing the skills work with the Premier side. No-one would envisage the second-last man on Leeside to make a victory speech from the Hogan Stand, Ben O’Connor in 2004, being invited to coach his county’s senior side within a decade of collecting Liam MacCarthy.
The specific loss of a generation of expertise, and the general notion that Cork hurling has fallen rapidly from a standard-setting peak of five or six years ago, are some of the pressing matters which will land in the new county secretary’s in-tray.
There is no shortage of speculation on potential replacements for current secretary Frank Murphy when he steps down, ranging from county board figures such as Mark Sheehan of Coiste na nÓg to GAA President Christy Cooney. Sheehan is regarded as able but inexperienced, while Cooney, on the surface a strong candidate, has significant weaknesses.
As president, he is in charge of those officials in Croke Park who will have a major say in appointing the new county board secretary: it would hardly be an ideal start if the new Cork GAA supremo were picked by those now answerable to him.
One figure who would command support is current PRO Ger Lane, who has worked hard to improve the public image of the Cork County Board, which has generally been as popular a brand as Anglo Irish Bank.
Lane at least is aware of the toxic impression given to the public by some of the board’s frontline staff and has also provided that public with an impressive website detailing board activities.
However, there isn’t one job on offer here. There are two. One is that of county secretary: administration in all its many forms when you’re dealing with a couple of hundred clubs, as well as county teams which expect to reach Croke Park in August, at least, every year.
The other position is one which was argued for in Mayo by the independent body appointed to reform the GAA in that county — a commercial director, who in this case would also function as a positive front-of-house man for hurling and football in Cork.
There is no shortage of potential candidates, of articulate All-Ireland winners with a background in finance who would project a far more positive image for the GAA in Cork.
Such an appointee would hardly make such mistakes as, say, giving the contract for organising a team holiday to a Dublin travel agent rather than a local operator.
Cork County Board can point, of course, to a successful Gaelic football team, and a fine underage record in that code, though there is also the small matter of three catastrophic strikes involving the county’s elite teams in the last decade, a nightmare nobody wants to revisit.
Clearly those disputes were so bitter and divisive that it would be unrealistic to expect them not to leave a lasting mark.
But that mark will have to be erased, particularly if hurling within the county is to be revitalised.
They used to say about a certain Labour politician that given the choice between saving his party and saving the world, he’d invariably choose the easier option (the former, if you’re slow on the uptake). The new Runaí in Páirc Uí Chaoimh will soon be in a similar position.
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