Cork’s defeat means no Munster football final when Páirc Uí Chaoimh re-opens

No doubt the calls will be sounded again soon. Root and branch reform. Sweeping change. Not good enough.
Cork’s defeat means no Munster football final when Páirc Uí Chaoimh re-opens

This braying has become not an occasional phenomenon in Cork GAA but an echo that resounds at every new nadir, this time the defeat of Cork on Sunday by a Tipperary football team missing at least 11 players. As a sign of desperation Cork resorted to putting on a teenager still grappling with the Leaving Certificate.

This is just a random marker of Cork’s ineptitude, which exists here both as a team-specific issue and an indicator of wider problems.

The former? Cork have not yet replaced Conor Counihan as a manager properly. Last year Brian Cuthbert stepped down after a brief reign, having brought Cork to the league final, losing to Kerry after a replay in the Munster final, and then losing out to Kildare in the qualifiers.

During his term Cuthbert and his management team had a meeting with senior players in which the latter group sought more investment in sports psychology, a request which resulted in a frank exchange of views. When Cuthbert departed there was a lengthy interregnum before Peadar Healy, who worked as a selector with Conor Counihan, was appointed, and significant investment in sports psychology followed.

It would be easy to point to Cork’s relegation this season to Division 2 and their first championship defeat to Tipperary in over 70 years as proof the new regime is not working.

It would be far more beneficial for the long-term benefit of Cork football to examine how exactly Healy was appointed, when the likes of Ronan McCarthy and Ephie Fitzgerald were, for quite some time, the only declared candidates. It’s still unclear how Healy was selected in a county where management appointment processes, of all matters, were the source of plenty of angst a few years ago.

The current management team have had their own specific issues: it’s not clear, for instance, whether experienced defender Michael Shields is on the panel or off. Some Leeside clubs have suggested that Cork football panellists are being pressured about participating in club hurling competitions. The introduction of Douglas teenager Sean Powter on Sunday raises the issue of the selectors’ duty of care to a teenager currently sitting the most important examination of his life, regardless of the romance involved.

In a wider context the defeat is another milestone in Cork’s decline, though it also helps to point up a bewildering doublethink within the county: Cork’s hurling failures are due to underage failures, but Cork’s senior football failures come on the back of plentiful underage successes.

The ongoing poverty of coaching in Cork is an indictment of officials within the county, and the slowly-rising stadium by the river is an obstacle to getting boots on the ground, to use an expression dear to the hearts of military theorists. What’s happening now is the perfect storm of circumstances: an indebted county board, an underwhelming crop of players, a flailing management team.

In parallel with all of this is a consistent apathy among the Cork GAA public. In other counties the strikes and near misses and lengthy campaigns— in 2013 and 2010, not all that long ago— would energise support. Not in Cork, where less than 2,000 football supporters went to Thurles on Sunday.

Perhaps the time has come for an independent body to be formed as a catalyst for action within the county— part supporters’ group, part oversight committee, part advisory board — aligned with but not governed by officials within the county. As it is, Corkonians’ detachment from their county sides is real, ongoing and likely to deteriorate unless action is taken.

Or perhaps, as noted above, calling for action is just another part of the process of dealing with these defeats.

Cork have been here before, of course. In 1997 they lost to Clare in Ennis in the Munster football championship, but that was the classic sucker-punch, last-minute-goal defeat inflicted by a team which, while it had survivors from a provincial victory, was in decline.

Sunday’s defeat was the culmination of years of hard work in Tipperary and is a notch on the belt of a team on the way up. Managing senior participation at the highest levels in Gaelic football and hurling may yet test the Premier County’s administrators and senior coaches, but as of yesterday morning it was a test they were keen to embrace.

A different test awaits the Munster Council, by the way. Over 30,000 people attended each of the Cork-Kerry games last year: will Kerry-Tipperary attract as much? Those receipts go into coaching and other areas all over the province, so some allocations may not be quite as generous in 2017.

For Cork Sunday’s defeat also means no Munster football final when Páirc Uí Chaoimh re-opens, as they’ll still ‘owe’ Kerry a game. But on Sunday’s evidence, how much of an issue will that be?

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