Since then, the Cork management haven’t been idle. Manager Kieran Kingston agreed to sit down late last week to discuss what he and his backroom team have been doing since that July evening in Thurles.
“The strategic areas we’ve been looking at since then have been panel development, coaching, our training base, liaison with the U21s, appointing a new selector, managing the young players’ training load, and Gary Keegan coming on board.
“We’ve been working hard on those areas since we went out of the championship. Hurling people know well where we are, the record at minor and U21 level.”
In some areas the changes were obvious. Selector Pat Ryan has taken over as coach with the departure of Frank Flannery. The training base is now Cork IT rather than Mallow. John Meyler has come in as a selector. And the panel?
“The panel is fluid,” said Kingston. “We’re watching colleges games, the Glen’s progress in the Munster club championship, and we’d like to think we’ll get a blend of experience and youth — some of the latter may not play next year, but they may come through in 2018 or 2019. That’s important.
“So is the Glen’s success — by winning in Munster (when defeating Patrickswell), the first win by a Cork club since 2009 in the competition, that’s given everyone a huge boost.” John Meyler’s appointment brings additional nous to the sideline; he’ll combine that role with that of U21 manager.
“Having John on board as a new selector — he’ll add more experience, given the intercounty jobs he’s held. But he’ll also function as a link between the U21s and the senior team. We have to bring through more younger players, it’s as simple as that — this time last year we had one U21 on the panel, Patrick Collins. Waterford had a dozen U21s on their panel last year and got to within a replay of the All-Ireland senior final.
“Now we have 11 U21s on our extended panel, which I think is the most since 1998, when we last won an All-Ireland U21 title.
“John will get the best out of the U21s and is also placed, then, to tell us first-hand in the senior management how lads are progressing.
“He has decades of experience with young lads in that age cohort, from 17 to 22, because of his work in CIT and we’ll benefit from that, too.
“Some of those youngsters will break through quicker than others. They know themselves it’s a big step, but the Cork public will have to be patient with them. It won’t happen overnight for some of them, and supporters need to realise that.”
Those young players’ training load is another area management have focused on.
“We brought those younger players onto a development panel last year and it’s good to see that some of them are coming into contention now for the senior team. Diarmuid O’Sullivan (senior selector) and Declan O’Sullivan (senior strength and conditioning coach) are overseeing their development and those players have a year of that training under their belts now. The new development panel we’re creating now will have the UCC and CIT teams feeding in, with John Meyler keeping an eye on them at U21 level.
“Declan’s (O’Sullivan) work is crucial too, as it maintains a continuity in terms of strength and conditioning as players come onto the senior panel. We’re conscious that these lads are under pressure from clubs, colleges, county, pulling out of them, and given Cork is committed to both codes, in Gaelic football as well.
Because of that we’ve put a structure in place to make sure these lads’ training load is monitored, that if we need to throttle back because they have exams at a particular time, if we need to liaise with the colleges to cut back their training, that all of those things are done.”
The appointment of Gary Keegan, formerly director of the Irish Institute of Sport, as a consultant has piqued people’s interest, unsurprisingly.
“That’s understandable, given Gary’s record,” said Kingston.
“We’re delighted as a management team that he’s come on board, and the players themselves were energised when we confirmed it for them. We’ll look to him to help create a winning culture with the Cork senior hurlers, and hopefully that winning mentality will become contagious across other teams, too.”
Kingston added that he and his management team are under no illusions: “We know it’s going to be hard, and we’ve only got a Munster title in 2014 to show for the last few years. There’s huge work being done by the entire backroom team to make us as good as we can be. Some people may become frustrated but while it might be easy to continue as is, to us that would be of no use for 2017 or the long-term future of Cork hurling. Every manager wants to win, and I’m no different. I have a hugely competitive and ambitious backroom team, and while our aim is to be the best we can be in 2017, we certainly weren’t in 2016. We have an obligation also to keep an eye to the medium and long-term future of Cork hurling.”