Heading into their first spring off-Broadway since 2009, the Cork footballers have plenty to focus the mind on as they begin the rebuilding process after a disappointing 2016 season.
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. Cork haven’t been seen in the second tier in seven years and won’t want this latest excursion extending beyond April.
Moreover, if they’re serious about challenging Kerry in Munster and again being competitive at the quarter-final stage of the All-Ireland series, then the only preparation for such a summer is a league campaign which brings them to Ballybofey, Castlebar and Croke Park. From the eight teams in this year’s Division 2, only Clare and Galway were at Croke Park during the August Bank Holiday weekend last year.
One was beaten by nine points, the other by 11. If Cork cannot succeed in such an environment, there’s little chance of them making an impression come July and August.
2016 championship: LWWL
2016 league: WLLLWWL
2015 championship: WDLL
Doesn’t read too well, does it? If a study of each interview given by a Cork footballer over the past two years was carried out, it is safe to assume the word used most often would be ‘consistency’. In his first media engagements after being appointed as manager, Peadar Healy said he was “looking for performance in every game, that we have that continuity and consistency”.
Selector Eoin O’Neill hammered out a similar message ahead of their championship opener against Tipperary last June: “We want to try and get consistent in the way we perform.”
The back-to-back wins which followed that shock Munster semi-final defeat represented the county’s first set of back-to-back championship triumphs since 2013. Probably worth noting that Limerick and Clare were the two teams taken back then, while it was Limerick and Longford who were negotiated on this occasion.
Probably the most accurate summation of Cork at present was Paul Kerrigan’s utterance “you never really know what you are going to get from us”.
They’ve at least been consistent in chasing consistency.
Cork played four championship games last summer. Eight players - Ryan Price, Eoin Cadogan, Colm O’Driscoll, Kevin O’Driscoll, Tom Clancy, Ian Maguire, Mark Collins and Paul Kerrigan - started all four games.
Three players - Alan O’Connor, Peter Kelleher and James Loughrey - started three games. Only goalkeeper Ryan Price and Ian Maguire at midfield, though, lined out in the same position in each of the four games. Price’s involvement, however, is no longer a certainty with Ken O’Halloran back on the scene.
Had Eoin Cadogan not been detailed to pick up Donegal corner-forward Paddy McBrearty during the qualifier clash at Croke Park, he would have been at full-back for all four. Throw in Alan O’Connor and Maguire at midfield, Mark Collins at centre-forward and Paul Kerrigan in the corner and that’s five positions nailed.
Beyond that, the picture becomes unclear. Where does Aidan Walsh go if management persist with Maguire and O’Connor at midfield? Further forward, you’ve two Hurleys, Colm O’Neill, Seán Powter, Peter Kelleher, Donnacha O’Connor, Niall Coakley and Gary Murphy chasing four positions. Conor Dorman and Kevin O’Driscoll are likely starters, but whether that is in the half-back or half-forward line is anyone’s guess.
Having been present at December’s County Convention, it was impossible not to pick up on the contrasting tones to Ger Lane’s chairman’s address when dealing with the Cork hurlers and footballers and what was expected of either in 2017.
Bear in mind, both endured similarly frustrating campaigns in 2016. This, however, was difficult to comprehend while listening to Lane call for improved showings from Peadar Healy’s charges and then advocate patience for a hurling team in transition.
“The [football] team is in transition, but we have the players and we should be much more competitive,” said Lane.
“This team is fully resourced and financed and we must see a major improvement from our team management and players in the league and championship in 2017. Cork football should be in a much better position and questions have to be asked if it doesn’t happen in 2017.”
The pointed comments towards Peadar Healy and his backroom team didn’t end there. They were also singled out for naming dummy teams throughout last year’s championship.
In responding to comments from Passage delegate Matt Ahern who admonished the football management for making late changes to their team on match-day, Ger Lane said: “I don’t know who we are fooling. Our neighbours across the border don’t bother with this.”
And seeing how the board covered all costs relating to the footballers’ makeshift gym in Fermoy, the players, one would imagine, will be mighty keen to get back in their good books by achieving promotion to Division 1.
Just as important, mind, is all victories are secured by the team named on the Friday night before each game. No late changes, please.