Jamie Wall believes the challenge for new Cork football manager Keith Ricken is not to win All-Irelands but to make the Rebels relevant again.
Crucially, Wall, an All-Ireland U21 football finalist in 2013 before his career was cut short through injury, believes they’ve got the right man for the job.
Ricken guided Cork to All-Ireland U20 success in 2019 and is renowned for his holistic approach to managing and developing players and teams, tallying with Wall’s suggestion that “an overhaul of attitudes and culture” is required.
Wall’s hope for Cork is that they can become a consistent force in the coming years, holding up Donegal as an example of a county that is always there or thereabouts.
“It’s getting Cork football to a place where it’s relevant is the task now,” said Wall, who lined out in three Munster U21 final wins in a row between 2011 and 2013.
“When we’re a team that people look at at the start of the year and say: ‘We’re going to have to beat Cork to win an All-Ireland’, that’s the goal. That’s the big success of Donegal, for example, in my eyes since the Jim McGuinness era.
“Donegal have always been relevant since then. They have only won the one All-Ireland but you look back now and say: ‘Who are the teams that were always there?’ It’s Donegal, Kerry, Tyrone, Mayo, Dublin....and you always say Donegal, since 2011.
“You never looked at it and thought: ‘They are just a stag party’. That’s the old thing that used to be thrown at them. You don’t look at it that way anymore and I don’t think you ever will. If Cork can get to that kind of place where we are always there or thereabouts that would be development.
“In the soccer, the big six are never going away. They are always there at that top level. That’s what success is at the top level of sport for me, and obviously only one team can go on and win it. So it’s a case then of who gets it right in that short term of 12 to 24 months, that decides who wins trophies.
“We are not in that position where if someone gets it right in Cork over the next 24 months they will win us an All-Ireland.
“So what we need is to get to the level where someone getting it right does put us in a position to win things. We are a little further back but I am quite optimistic that we have got the right guy for that job.”
Wall is enthused by Ricken’s track record of incremental improvements with all the teams he’s managed and claimed it’s up to Cork officials and supporters now to give the MTU GAA officer adequate time to develop the county team.
“What I really do hope is that Cork football people, and I am one of them, that we can back our man, and back that there is a plan there, as long as we can see that being displayed,” continued Wall.
“It’s probably one of the big laments about the weekend just gone that we, as an organisation, have shown that we are not interested in teams making incremental progress, given that we basically threw out the motion that suggested how you become slightly better every year and how you ultimately get on top.”
Kilbrittain man Wall, primarily a hurling coach now and a Fitzgibbon Cup winner with Mary Immaculate College in 2017, admitted he doesn’t know how Cork’s senior football team slipped back over recent years immediately after underage success.
The county has won 12 of the last 18 provincial U20/U21 titles, contesting three All-Ireland finals in the last decade and winning one of them, in 2019. Kerry did dominate at minor level in that period though Cork are more recent All-Ireland winners, claiming the 2019 title.
“There is a huge base of players there, what is going wrong?” asked Wall. “I am not going to sit here and pontificate and say I know what is going wrong but I do think, and I’m glad, that we’ve got a guy who is going to be able to examine that and drill down into that and, I hope, fix it.”
- Jamie Wall is an ambassador for Let’s Get Back, a campaign created by Sport Ireland in partnership with Healthy Ireland, encouraging the public to return to sport and physical activity. See sportireland.ie for details.