Cork must adopt Cats’ selector system

THE PERFECT STORM, Kilkenny People journalist John Knox called it, and it was. What we saw in Croke Park on Sunday was a brilliantly coached, superbly conditioned team, with outstanding individual hurlers in every position with all the skills of the game.

Everyone buys absolutely into the team concept, the agenda set in no uncertain terms by Brian Cody.

On Sunday, it just all came together, that perfect storm, and Waterford were simply blown away.

Could they have been better prepared? Without question, yes, and just as Davy Fitzgerald would have earned huge praise had Waterford managed to overcome the odds and win this All-Ireland, he has already accepted part culpability for Waterford’s loss.

Not in any sense, either individually or as a team, were Waterford ready, and some of the decisions made both before (Molumphy at centre-forward, Dan on JJ Delaney, John Mullane at full-forward) and during the game (Prendergast taken off at half-time when he was the only one of the half-forward trio actually winning any ball), were baffling.

And where was the short puckout strategy? Since Kilkenny wised up to Cork a few years ago, and allowed Cork the area inside their own 45 but crowded out their own half-back line and midfield, teams have run scared of trying the short puckout route against the Cats. But given how well this new system works for Kilkenny (look at the ball won out around midfield by Henry Shefflin and Eoin Larkin), that short puckout strategy just needs to be fine-tuned and tried again.

Anyway, enough of Waterford’s shortcomings, this was about Kilkenny yesterday, a performance to match any, in any era. What can be done by the other hurling counties to try and curb this Kilkenny dominance? Bear in mind, if the U21’s beat Tipperary at the weekend, that will be a clean sweep for Kilkenny with four All-Ireland titles – intermediate, minor, senior, U-21 – in a fortnight.

Given their dominance at the top level, how scary a prospect is that for the rest? I mean, there are counties out there who haven’t won four All-Irelands in their history, yet here are Kilkenny, cleaning up, and barely a boast out of them.

The closest any team came to matching Kilkenny in this year’s championship was Cork in the semi-final. But there’s a fatal flaw in the current Cork setup, pointed out to me that weekend. In those All-Ireland semi-finals we had four games between minor and senior, that’s eight teams. Of those eight teams, only two still have the five-selector system, and both were beaten. The two teams? Cork minors and Cork seniors. If Cork are to be involved now in the chase to overtake Kilkenny, that has to change.

Over the past winter, the Cork players spent a lot of their energy on fighting their own county board on the system of appointing managers and selectors. When you look at how close the hurlers came to Kilkenny, how much closer the footballers were to Kerry, you have to wonder – how much better would they have been had they not been so distracted? This split in Cork has got to end, if Cork are to progress.

Kilkenny are now the template, they are the benchmark. Their system is simple; Brian Cody as manager, two selectors, both of whom he picks himself. Cork must now adapt that system, end this nonsense of five selectors, of the county champions having an automatic appointee – there should be no club influence whatsoever in the picking of the Cork senior hurling or football teams. It’s now become a cliché that the little things can make a big difference – having an unwieldy system of five, some of whom will often bring their own club bias to the table, is a recipe for continuing underachievement.

And despite what some of the naysayers will say about all the All-Irelands Cork have won under the old system, underachievement is what Cork is about, both in hurling and football.

There will be those who will splutter into their tea as they read that this morning, point to Cork’s record of well over 100 All-Ireland titles at all levels. What’s the population of Cork? By what factor do they outnumber Kilkenny, in both population and club numbers – three, four, five? Yet, since Kilkenny turned their backs on cricket and football at the start of the last century and started winning hurling All-Irelands, they have easily outstripped Cork in All-Ireland senior titles won. They are now out on their own in the order of merit – they have been out on their own for some time. Tipp have their house in order, as have most of the other contending counties – Cork must now get organised, and a three-man selection committee, two appointed by the manager, is merely the start.

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