FOR anyone at the recent Munster MHC match in Thurles, the second-half mauling by Tipperary tells you the answer is an unqualified yes. Were this just a one-off, a poor crop for this one year — as can happen in any county — one could be dismissive but this is not a one-off, it’s part of a pattern that has developed in Cork for well over a decade.
In 1998, Cork won both the minor and U21 All-Ireland finals. Since then they’ve appeared in two minor finals, won one (2001), but even that lowly return — for such a powerful hurling county — is rich in comparison to the U21s, who haven’t been back on the big stage since.
At senior level, the county has fallen behind Tipp, Kilkenny, Waterford, Dublin, is slipping behind Galway, is on a par now with an improving Limerick and just ahead of Clare, Wexford and Offaly. Anyone in Cork hurling who isn’t concerned about this, simply isn’t concerned about Cork hurling.
The problems are myriad but it starts at the top, with the Cork County Board. What does it take to be appointed a Cork hurling manager? What do you need to have, an honours-laden CV? That’s what you should have, to manage a county such as Cork at any level, right?
What you do need, however, is a face that fits, you need to be someone who has never crossed the board at any level, someone who has never called the effectiveness of their governance into question.
Management and coaching qualifications? Secondary.
For far too long the Cork County Board have been more concerned with point-scoring off the field than on. Three player strikes in six years cost the county dearly, a magnificent crop destroyed from within. Its potential stymied. Where a new generation should have been inspired by the deeds of their heroes on the field, another golden period, they were instead treated to a period of chaos presided over by a board that seemed more concerned with preserving itself than preserving the proud record of Cork hurling.
In this job I get a lot of these two glib comments, a) players win/lose games, and b) games are won on the field — as though that’s the be all and end all.
Players do win and lose games and inside the white lines at that, but management — depending on whether it’s good or bad — can also win and lose games, and governance likewise.
Good governance and good management is what you need to maximise your chances of winning an All-Ireland. After that, and only after that, is up to the players.
Far too often and for far too long in Cork hurling, those two critical elements went missing.
There are players in Cork at every level, I have absolutely no doubt about that. The county is a sleeping giant.
A change of attitude at board level is what’s needed, a recognition that dissent is good, that a questioning of the status quo is what leads to change, to progress.
In the recent establishment of underage academies Cork are only playing catch-up even with football inside the county itself. But even if those academies begin to churn out top-class hurlers, unless there’s a quantum leap change in approach at the top to the appointment of managers and management teams, Cork will continue to flounder, at all levels.
Get the best former players coaching, even the thorniest of them. Get the best involved in management. Do that, and Cork will once again take its place at the top table. Don’t, and in the doldrums Cork shall remain.
THERE are those who contend that the last two weekends provided images to support a theory brewing about the state of Cork hurling.
Dublin provided the most uplifting national story for hurling since the exploits of Clare and Wexford in the ‘90s, when they crushed Kilkenny in the league final. Then, last Sunday, the Cork minor team saw their championship season end in early May when convincingly defeated by Tipperary. The sight of Dublin supplanting Cork in the national senior hierarchy and another underage team suffering an early championship exit was too much to bear. The proclamations began in earnest this week.
Cork hurling is dead, long live Cork hurling.
But there is a strong element of hysteria. The Cork underage question is one that has vexed many followers, but scratch beneath the surface and a different picture emerges. Silverware is not the sole determining factor on how successful they have been. What is more pertinent is that a county’s underage teams are simply contesting the business end of the championships.
Cork’s lack of an All-Ireland minor hurling crown since 2001 and an U21 title since 1998 are sticks that are frequently used to beat the county with. But exposing emerging talents to big games is more important. Cork’s failure to emerge from the Munster minor grade the past three seasons is certainly a cause for concern. However, suggestions that the county has consistently floundered over the past decade are misguided considering Cork featured in six consecutive All-Ireland minor semi-finals between 2003 and 2008.
Cork had the misfortune of being undone by Joe Canning for three consecutive years at minor level between 2004 and 2006, and then in 2007 he was part of a Galway U21 team that scraped into extra-time past Cork in an All-Ireland semi-final. In 2008 they were the victims of crazy scheduling at U21 level when Patrick Cronin, Cathal Naughton and Patrick Horgan lined out in a defeat by Clare, 48 hours after their energy-sapping All-Ireland senior qualifier win over Galway.
In the past two years Cork have only been ousted in the Munster U21 championship after extra-time against Tipperary. Last September the Tipperary U21s were lauded as an awesome force that could compete in the senior ranks. Yet rewind a few months and it was only a late goal from Seamus Hennessy that saved them against a Cork side that had controlled their Munster semi-final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
A lack of underage glories is not fatal for the development of senior careers. Shane O’Neill has never featured in an All-Ireland minor or U21 final but that has not stopped him from becoming one of the leading defenders in the game. O’Neill appeared in two All-Ireland semi-finals at minor and U21 level and that enabled him to accumulate the experience necessary to make the jump to senior inter-county hurling.
The Fitzgibbon Cup was another crucial factor in his development as he reached the semi-final stage twice before claiming that coveted medal in 2009 with UCC. The third-level competition is another useful tool with which life can be detected in Cork hurling. At this year’s finals weekend in Waterford IT in March, 25 of the 70 players who saw game time in Friday’s semi-final ties 25 were from Cork.
The county senior side may not be amongst the frontrunners heading into the championship but they’re not quite the minnows they’re portraying. Cork have still reached the All-Ireland semi-final in seven of the past eight years, a level of consistency only Kilkenny can match.
This at present is a transition period with many of the pillars of the 2004-05 teams approaching the end of their careers and the onus now is on new leaders to emerge.
But a full-blown crisis? Not yet. That decline can still be arrested.