In the same way that he disagreed with the assertion of Cork football being on its knees, Ronan McCarthy doesn’t now believe that a couple of notable results have made everything “rosy in the garden”.
Cork finish their Super 8 campaign with a home fixture against Roscommon tomorrow, by which point the county could well be celebrating a first All-Ireland football title since 2010 (junior excluded).
But even if the U20s come up short at Portlaoise, there is still the All-Ireland semi-final which Bobbie O’Dwyer’s minors are involved in next weekend to look forward to.
With 2017 and 2018 having passed without a single Cork football team playing championship at Croke Park, both the seniors and minors will have lined out at GAA HQ by close of summer, while a seven-year gap has been bridged to the last occasion two Cork teams reached the All-Ireland semi-final stage of their respective championship in the one season.
In essence, it has been a fine - and badly needed - summer for Cork football. But you won’t find senior boss Ronan McCarthy shouting from the rooftop that Cork football is once again a vibrant entity.
He doesn’t need reminding of the importance of last weekend’s double minor/U20 success in Tullamore or, indeed, his own team ending a five-year wait for an All-Ireland quarter-final appearance.
The priority going forward, he stressed, must be to ensure that such results are repeated on an annual basis.
“Last year, it was said Cork football was in the doldrums, now everything is rosy in the garden. Neither is true.
“You look to make, and I am talking about us as a county here, not just the seniors, incremental gains year on year,” McCarthy reasoned.
The senior boss is encouraged by the performances of Keith Ricken’s U20 side and expects many of them will be involved in the senior set-up in 2020. The hope will be that at least one or two of those players can make the transition to the top grade as seamlessly as half-back Liam O’Donovan did this summer. The Clonakilty defender, in his first year out of U20, started and finished all bar one of Cork’s five championship outings.
What you’ll have is players coming into what we hope is a fairly steady ship. There has been a lot of talk about how good a number of the players are. It is well-deserved talk, but you still have to manage them properly, put them into the right games at the right times, give them time to develop, give them time to fail, give them time to have setbacks, drops in form and all of that.
“The lifeblood of any team is competition for places.I’m not going to start namechecking players, but there are five or six really talented players in the U20s who will come into the set-up straight away and it is good to have every fella on the (senior) team looking over his shoulder saying, ‘who is coming after my place’.”
McCarthy added: “We are in a nice place at the moment. There will be very little turnover [during the off-season]. When things were going badly, my message was to not get carried away. And I am saying the same thing here. Positive direction, yes, but let’s keep things nice and steady, and keep trying to make small little gains all the time.”
Reflecting on their Super 8 outings against Dublin and Tyrone, the latter described as an opportunity lost, the manager cited game-management and decision-making as the two areas where improvement must be achieved if Cork are to go deeper into the summer of 2020 than this campaign.
“We were very competitive in both games and, at times, looked a really, really top class side, particularly at the beginning of the game against Dublin. For 15 minutes, we were almost flawless. Against Tyrone, we were really excellent for 30 minutes of that game. We showed we can mix it with the best of them. I’ve mentioned game-management and decision-making, they are tiny things but, at this level, they are so important. We add them to our game and we’ll progress again.”
On a side note, while GAA chiefs could have considered lowering the €25 admission fee into Páirc Uí Rinn given neither side can progress in the championship, the Cork county board are to be commended for inviting all children attending the game to bring a football as they will be allowed onto the pitch at half-time for a kick around.