It seems like a lifetime ago Cork football was riding the crest of a wave after winning the All-Ireland title in 2010, followed up by five Munster U21 titles in the next seven years, writes Mike Quirke.
If we thought Mayo were an easy target of late, the Cork footballers have awoken from their championship slumber and reminded us again of their pre-eminent position as the GAA’s number one piñata.
“Step right up and take a swing folks, we’re only here for a short while every summer.”
Saturday night’s performance against Waterford only reaffirmed what we already knew about the shambolic nature of the Cork senior football set-up. I don’t profess to have any great deal of knowledge about the inner workings of their group, but I know one thing for certain — if Cork are only beating Waterford by a single point in championship football, there is something fundamentally wrong somewhere with the Rebels.
For all the soft talk of failures at county board level, leading to the well documented lack of adequate facilities and resources for their county teams, the truth of the matter is, once those players crossed the white line last Saturday, they failed to live up to the responsibility that wearing their county jersey deserves and demands.
Why that is, I really don’t know. It’s like they use the perception of dysfunctionality at board level as a protective shield to divert the responsibility away from themselves.
The reality is, if those players have any pride in their role representing the county, somebody needs to stand up and take the situation by the throat and force everyone in the group to take a long hard look at themselves and figure out if they really want to be there or not. Because right now, and people can blame the county board all they want, but those players are just letting themselves down.
And I’m fully aware here that it’s the easiest thing in the world to kick somebody when they’re down, and I’m not interested in engaging in that type of nonsense. But I just can’t figure out why they continue to be so incapable of lifting themselves back up off the floor.
Where is their leadership? Who are the players trying to take control of this thing? Who is their Graham Canty? Their Anthony Lynch or Nicholas Murphy? Who are the guys that are going to hold the rest of them accountable in the dressing room if they are not delivering?
If they thought they got a rough ride after losing to Tipperary last year, they were just a couple of scores from being buried again under another avalanche of toxic criticism following their latest abject showing against another Munster minnow in Dungarvan on Saturday.
Only for the experience and proven quality of 36-year-old Donnacha O’Connor coming off the bench along with captain Paul Kerrigan to steer them through very turbulent waters, their ship could have well and truly sunk off the Waterford coast.
To put it into some sort of context, Cork finished in fourth place in Division 2 of the Allianz League with seven points to their credit, while Waterford racked up only four points in Division 4 and finished third from bottom, with two of those league points coming after a win over London. Upon conclusion of the league this spring, there was a total of two divisions and 19 league positions between the two sides. In terms of national league ranking, Waterford were the third worst football team in the competition.
Let that seep in for a minute.
Most would have expected a comfortable victory for Peadar Healy’s side before throw-in, even allowing for the apparently brittle self-belief within the squad. And while I appreciate a win is a win in championship football, I’m sure that one felt a lot more like a loss than a victory inside the walls of their dressing room. If it didn’t, it should have.
In what seems like a lifetime ago, Cork football was riding the crest of a wave after winning the All- Ireland title in 2010, and followed up that victory by laying a seemingly solid foundation of five Munster U21 titles in the next seven years — 11 Munster U21 titles since 2001. You would think, even allowing for the county’s dual status, that there would be a steady conveyor belt of talented young guys who would push on to the senior set-up. But that link from U21 success to senior level has never materialised for them to the degree it should. They’re like completely separate entities with no joined up thinking about how best to bring them through, but that’s not the players’ fault.
You can throw that one at the county board. But it is a fair question… where are all those players gone?
The disharmony felt by many in Cork about the redevelopment of Pairc Úi Chaoimh instead of a more functional year-round training facility for their county teams is a well-trodden debate. As is the selection process of their current and former management teams. Everybody has a gripe with how they do their business. But one way or another, no matter what the reason or excuse, with 260 affiliated GAA clubs, more of which are big ball than small, the Cork senior football team should not be struggling so badly to get over a hard-working Waterford.
For Cork supporters now, they’re stuck with the probability of two pretty miserable options. Would they prefer to be beaten by Tipperary for a second year in a row in Munster, confirming their status as championship also-rans, or would they really like to reach a provincial decider — most likely against their traditional rivals Kerry — in the first football game played in the redeveloped Páirc Úí Chaoimh?
Option B may also include taking a bit of a hammering inside the plush surrounding of their brand new shiny stadium on the banks of the Lee. Talk about a rock and a hard place.
The problems in Cork football are too deep and multi-faceted for any quick fix solution, and if ever a county was crying out for a director of football or some other equivalent over-arching position, it is Cork. They desperately need somebody with autonomy from the board to get a proper handle on everything. Someone who can integrate what’s going on in the county from development squad level, to minor, Under 21 and up to senior level. Because right now, there seems to be no common thread joining the dots.
For the players in this Cork senior dressing room, they aren’t going to be around long enough for any of that to matter. They need to be their own agent for change, and they need to take ownership now. I’ve never had reason to question the ability or athleticism of Cork footballers, but now more than ever before, it’s more about whether they have enough strong characters and leaders in their dressing room to turn this around and get a big performance out of themselves against Tipperary in a fortnight.
If they can’t, it’ll be another short summer — and another long winter of passing the buck.
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