Cork and Kerry: Two proud footballing counties with big decisions to make

Where are the respective managerial processes at in the two Munster powerhouses?
Cork and Kerry: Two proud footballing counties with big decisions to make

Kerry manager Peter Keane speaks to his players during a water break in the Allianz Football League meeting with Dublin at Semple Stadium

Where lies the succession stakes, post Keane and McCarthy?

Keane done. McCarthy dusted. Sounds like a Saipan throwback. And there’s been no shortage of controversy and hot air in both counties to fill the pause while GAA executives in Cork and Kerry mull over their important next managerial manoeuvres.

Cork dispensed with the services of their football manager Ronan McCarthy and face an era-defining decision on how they replace him. Is Cork really satisfied to be second class football citizens for the foreseeable? Never mind, the biggest concern for some members of the County Board was how the Irish Examiner revealed the news first. 

In Kerry, a statement confirming the sub-committee to oversee the appointment of the next Kerry manager morphed into the ‘humiliation’ of Peter Keane and little short of a blight on the proud and upstanding heritage of Kerry GAA. Never mind that Keane was fully briefed on how the process would proceed from the get-go.

So where are the respective processes at the moment?

Kerry is a fair way down the track already but the only form horse out of contention is Éamonn Fitzmaurice, the favoured choice of some key decision-makers. Fitzmaurice reckons he’d need a career break from his job as a school principal to take back the keys to the Kingdom, which underlines the absurd levels of commitment we are talking about. 

Peter Keane knows it well. He has yet to make known his intentions in terms of a second run at the gig (after a few years before as county minor manager). The last time an executive in Kerry had to get its hands dirty with the future of a manager was 18 years ago with Páidí Ó Sé, except this time the administrators are not getting rid of Keane, irrespective of how some are choosing to interpret the statement this week. His term ended with the defeat of Tyrone, and so a new process begins — even if it was to end up with the same person at the helm.

Cork are taking their time and taking the long view. When a slew of hurling vacancies arose a couple of seasons ago, CEO Kevin O’Donovan and his top table used the moment to devise a long-term strategy with succession planning in mind. Kieran Kingston, Pat Ryan, Noel Furlong et al. They are now looking similarly at football. However, the options are nowhere as plentiful as the hurling. They may go front-of-house type candidate or may see the benefit in continuing Bobbie O’Dwyer’s elevation from minor manager to senior selector and then the top job. Though the Urhan man is the most identifiable candidate, that’s not to say he’s the favoured one.

Cork manager Ronan McCarthy before the Munster football final between Kerry and Cork at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Cork manager Ronan McCarthy before the Munster football final between Kerry and Cork at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Any possibility either would go outside the county for the position?

Cork might. Kerry won’t. The Kingdom’s home-grown options are thin on the ground right now, but they will be significantly better by the time the next manager’s replacement is chosen. 

Cork do not have such reassurance, and therein lies the crux. If geography wasn’t such a consideration, perhaps Cork might go after a standout candidate like Jim McGuinness, but geography is a consideration, even if it’s not frequently discussed. 

On a slightly presumptuous basis that Cork doesn’t wish to go over the county bounds for a manager, where else would it turn to in Munster (Colm Collins maybe) or beyond? The nearest choice candidate might still be in Ulster. 

Is there an obvious successor to Ronan McCarthy within the county, one who will map a new course and instil fresh ambition and thinking into Cork football? Can you name one? Someone made a good point last week: Cork GAA followers could probably name ten club hurling managers in the county – how many of their football counterparts do they know? 

Certainly, John Fintan Daly, should he apply, merits the fullest consideration this time around. The Knocknagree man has had success and setbacks but he’s surely worth a proper conversation. Either way, Cork are thinking beyond a short-term fix and know it’s no easy fix. Ronan McCarthy had Cian O’Neill and Kevin Smith on his coaching ticket and the likes of Sean Hayes, John Hayes and the aforementioned Bobbie O’Dwyer as selectors. It had plenty about it.

So it’s Jack O’Connor v Peter Keane in Kerry?

The Kerry GAA Chairman Tim Murphy was stopped on Main Street, Castleisland this week. ‘Have you heard the latest one,’? some lad asked.

‘I have', said Murphy and kept walking.

There’s no combination of candidates, cocktail of management tickets that hasn’t done the rounds in the Kingdom since the semi-final demise at the hands of Tyrone. If you were to pick the best of each, Kerry football might finish with a management for the ages. If only things were so linear.

As reported here last week, there are three putative management teams in the race, including Peter Keane’s until such time as he indicates otherwise. Perhaps Tyrone’s All-Ireland win strengthened Keane’s case. They were that close. Maybe it’s better to leave well enough alone and offer the outgoing management another term. Others will argue Kerry are farther away now than they were after the 2019 final replay loss to Dublin. After the shock defeat to Cork in 2020, it was commonly held in Kerry that there was no way Keane could stay as manager after 2021 if he didn’t deliver Kerry’s 38th All-Ireland.

In all of this, the view of the playing squad will weigh heavily. The leaders group features the likes of David Moran, Tommy Walsh, Sean O’Shea, David Clifford and Paul Murphy. They will meet as a group to reflect on the season and the present pause over the next few days. Keane’s management team has more support now than at any point in the past three seasons — at least among those who have expressed a view to those that matter. But every player will ask the same thing: if Keane’s face doesn’t fit, who’s replacing him?

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Jack O’Connor would like a third go at the Kerry gig. His management ticket could be interesting if informed whispers are to be believed. Similarly, Seamus Moynihan ticks a lot of boxes, especially if he is bringing, as suggested, coach Donie Buckley in tow. O’Connor, Seamo and Buckley has a powerful look to it, but how realistic it is remains questionable. Nevertheless, it would be some coup for Messrs Murphy, Twiss, Whelan, O’Leary and Daly to pull off. 

Maybe there’s a coaching role for a Mike Quirke or an outsider from Ulster. Maybe Jack grooms Declan O’Sullivan as a senior selector. Whatever road the Kerry appointment committee go, it will surely have a line of succession look to it. It will also be chairman Tim Murphy’s parting gift. The Brosna man has been a proper chairman for sure, but Sam Maguires are the currency that counts in the south-west and he’s the first Kerry chair without one. His handover to the new chair, either Eamonn Whelan or Patrick O’Sullivan, will be remembered, more than anything else, for the Kerry manager who goes with it.

What represents success for the next manager in both counties?

So much of what passes for success in Cork in 2022 depends on how the Championship format looks post-Special Congress, due to take place in October. If Cork and Kerry are united on one thing, it’s the need for more competitive games. Kerry’s semi-final disaster against Tyrone underlined that once more. The Kingdom need a League-based Championship next summer, where they are getting frequent gut-checks from Division One sides around the country. 

Cork is surely of a similar mind, whereby they are earning their way back to football’s top table by meeting and beating sides of a similar (Division 2) standard. 

Of course, not all counties in Munster will agree and there are whispers of a loose alliance forming on provincial grounds to propose a round-robin Munster Championship, along similar lines to the hurling format. Its merits are questionable to say the least. The Munster Football Championship is no longer a marketable proposition from any perspective. 

The new Cork manager will have more leeway than his Kerry counterpart either way. Since 2009, that’s 12 Championships ago, with one All-Ireland in the interim.

That’s why, for both counties, everything and everyone is on the table.

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