I walked out of Fitzgerald Stadium after watching Kerry trounce Cork not knowing what to think.
Even now I find it difficult to describe. I suppose I felt nothing really. Complete apathy.
What does it say when you can’t take any great pleasure from beating your closest and fiercest provincial rival?
There was no joy in watching it. A complete mismatch. I just wanted it to be over, for the referee to end the suffering and put them out of their misery.
Cork have turned into that pet dog you had at home as a kid, that you grew very attached to.
You enjoyed his company when he was young and able, running around and playing fetch, but he’s grown old and weary now, even docile, well into his winter years, just waiting for the inevitable.
Whether playing or supporting, I always loved Kerry and Cork, especially in the stadium on Munster final day.
Not because we won more than our fair share, but because you knew you were going to be tested. That’s where the satisfaction comes from.
You always had to battle to get the result, they’d force you to claw and fight to come away with a hard-earned win.
Those times are gone it seems, at least for now. But I was too fond of the competitiveness between the two counties to take much enjoyment from seeing that great rivalry diminished the way it is, to see them in the feeble state they are right now. I’d prefer if that dog was still around barking and causing trouble.
I got a bit of stick from Tipperary manager Liam Kearns ahead of the last year’s Munster final for suggesting that Kerry should have too much for his depleted Tipperary side. Blasé, was the word he used. I thought I was being logical.
This year was no different. I couldn’t understand how anybody in their right mind could genuinely believe that Cork had anything more than a punchers chance of winning the Munster title.
Any team plying their trade outside the top division, that flounders the way they did to get over lowly Waterford, and half a Tipperary team by a single point would have no realistic aspirations of coming to Fitzgerald Stadium and leaving with silverware.
They came to limit the damage. To get bodies behind the ball, to try to frustrate Kerry and hit them on the counter. They wanted little more than to avoid a humiliation.
Take out the dynamic Seanie Powter who was excellent all through, and Ian Maguire who put in a good shift around the middle, Paul Kerrigan at stages and Donnacha O’Connor in the second half, there were very few others in red that performed somewhere close to the level expected for a provincial final.
While it would be grossly unfair to lay all the blame at the feet of the manager and his coaching group, calling a spade a spade, Peadar Healy was in charge of current All-Ireland senior club champions Dr Crokes in Killarney a few years back, and was eventually moved on after a disappointing trophy-less stint at the helm.
His next gig was his current one. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement of his credentials, no more than persisting with playing a sweeper with time ticking away late in the second half and Cork trailing by double figures.
But as was well known before last Sunday, the problems in Cork football are far more deep-seated and difficult to arrest than simply sawing the manager.
It would be just as handy to lambast the players for their non-performance. I heard people question their effort and desire to play for their county last Sunday, but I don’t buy into that idle pub talk.
It’s easy to question a guy’s heart when you’re sitting on a high stool with a pint in your hand. Any footballer who trains as hard as inter-county players do, nearly all year round, doesn’t lack the want for the fight — if they did, they wouldn’t bother with it.
Could management inspire them to greater heights and get them to play above themselves? Sure, maybe they could squeeze another 5% out of them.
But the bottom line as I see it, Cork have apparently lost a generation of footballers who grew accustomed to beating Kerry in Munster at U21 level because of insufficient development structures within the county.
They have dominated that competition for over a decade, up to 2016, they won 10 Munster U21 titles in the previous 13 years, but have somehow managed to almost completely fail in translating that into sustained senior success.
I don’t think the issue is about pride or passion in the jersey, it seems glaringly obvious that it’s more of a case that a lot of the players just aren’t good enough.
Sure, they’ve lost guys to hurling, Australia and various serious injuries, but I’m talking about 10 provincial U21 titles. That’s a lot of players that have disappeared off the grid for different reasons.
From the outside, it seems the primary issue is an apparent absence of any sense of identity with Cork senior football. There is no culture to be a part of, or to strive towards.
Remember, back in 2011, Cork U21’s dished out the mother and father of beatings to Kerry in the provincial decider on a 2-24 to 0-08 scoreline that saw them stroll away 22-point victors.
Six years on, and eight of that same Kerry team were playing in Killarney last Sunday, Cork had only three. That doesn’t make any sense.
Rebel supporters feeling disappointed with their manager and players is fair game after the weekend, but if the county is serious about really solving the problems that exist within their football structures, somebody somewhere needs to start asking some hard questions like; how have they lost so many talented players? And more importantly, what can be done to solve it into the future?
For Kerry, they will care little about Cork’s problems. What they showed in over 80 minutes of economic and efficient football is that they are in a robustly healthy place, and nobody will want to meet them in a quarter-final.
Éamonn Fitzmaurice took on the job of Kerry manager at a time when the Kerry public probably felt like there was another famine coming.
Unlike Cork, there had been no obvious conveyor belt of talent coming through and he was seemingly going to be the man tasked with enduring a few tough years at the helm.
To his absolute credit, he has engineered a masterful transition from old to new.
Kieran Donaghy is now the sole surviving starting member of the 00’s brigade, but still Fitzmaurice found a way to regenerate the group from year to year, and delivered his fifth Munster title in a row at the weekend, to go along with an All-Ireland and National league title. Not bad for a famine.
Complacency, not Cork was Kerry’s only opponent Sunday. In its absence, this one was never in doubt against a county that will continue to pay a heavy price for squandering a generation of talent.
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