Counting the cost of Rebel management meltdown

IT was Kevin Heffernan and Mick O’Dwyer who ushered in the era of the manager as we know it today.

The innocent days of men like the legendary Jim ‘Tough’ Barry are long gone.

The flamboyant tailor survived 40 years at the helm of Cork hurling; he saw the McCarthy Cup coming to Leeside on more than a dozen occasions, but there were also long barren spells.

The 30s were not kind to Cork and then after the glorious Ring, the county had a 12 year famine which ended in 1966. One could not see any of today’s managers surviving for such a long spell.

Of course, in Jim Barry’s time, managers did not have the public profile they now command.

Today, team managers are better known than all but the leading players. They gladly accept the plaudits but are less willing to shoulder the blame when things go wrong.

Cork followers are only too painfully aware of the ones that got away due to bad decision making by management and

that was not the preserve of management of any particular era.

1969 was a case in point. When Justin McCarthy suffered an unfortunate leg injury as he travelled to the old Cork Athletic Grounds to a training session in the week leading up to the clash with Kilkenny the selectors clearly panicked.

They were guilty of the old failing of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ when the decision to move Willie Walsh from the forty to shore up the defence left the attack leaderless. Walsh, though performing valiantly, not surprisingly, failed to reach the standards to which followers were accustomed and Cork paid the price.

Three years later Cork management allowed heart to rule head and Frank Norberg led out the team even though it was painfully obvious the cultured Blackrock defender was in no position to do himself justice due to injury.

There are those who remain convinced that this decision robbed Cork of victory in one of the finest hurling finals seen in Croke Park. It was a day when Con Roche reached new heights and thrilled the crowd with a marvellous display and which saw Ray Cummins finish on the losing side even though he scored three goals.

Kilkenny came back from the dead to fashion a seven points win in the most extraordinary circumstances.

Eleven years later the team management was berated for the tactics used on a windswept day in Croke Park when the great Jimmy Barry-Murphy suffered the bitter disappointment of captaining two losing All-Ireland final teams in successive years.

Having performed very creditably when faced with a gale in the first half Cork played into Kilkenny’s hands in the second half.

Time and again, Ger Cunningham launched long puck-outs almost into the Kilkenny goalmouth only for them to be gobbled up by a teak-tough defence, ably assisted by Frank Cummins, who was astutely used in the role of sweeper behind Ger Henderson.

Obviously it never crossed the minds of those on the Cork sideline that it might be a good idea to vary these tactics.

Even more mystifying was the decision to make a last minute positional change in attack on the morning of the 1992 final against Kilkenny.

The decision to move Kevin Hennessy away from full-forward and place John Fitzgibbon there instead backfired spectacularly and left the selectors severely embarrassed.

It was a rash and totally illogical decision. Hennessy and Fitzgibbon had been excelling in their favoured positions throughout the campaign. The switch at the last moment was to lead to an unexpected defeat.

Donal O’Grady and his sideline colleagues were justifiably criticised last year for the changes which were NOT made. It was crystal clear to everybody watching that the Cork full forward line were simply not performing.

Alan Browne was all at sea at corner-forward and Joe Deane was being totally outplayed at full-forward. Why some change wasn’t made defies logic.

Deane would have revelled in the open spaces in the corner and Browne, who was having a bad day, would surely have relished a return to the position where he had contributed most during his career. Finally, Setanta should have been moved in to break the dominance of Kilkenny’s imperious full-back Noel Hickey.

Another question asked was why John Gardiner was not relieved of his free-taking duties when it became obvious it was not his day.

Any of several colleagues, notably Ben O’Connor, were equipped to step into his shoes.

The end result was that Cork handed the title to Kilkenny on a platter.

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