Brian Cuthbert: Cork had to change the way we played

Last week, Brian Cuthbert mentioned mistakes were made in 2014, writes John Fogarty.

Specifically? His own post-mortem is done and dusted. He won’t get into the forensics of Cork’s oscillations now.

“It’s obvious enough. Last year we changed the way we were playing after the Munster final. Every year there seems to be a copycat system in terms of what suffices to win an All-Ireland. I’d expect a lot of teams to be very defensive at the start of this year anyway. We’d a very good league last year but it seems that type of football — especially in the Kerry game — left us wide open. I think it’s simply a case of developing a game-plan that suits the guys we have.”

When Cuthbert and his management team elected to rip up the script for that qualifier against Sligo was he thinking of more than just 2014?

“If you lose a Munster final by 12 points you’ve no choice but to change things but you’re still in the All-Ireland. We were in a qualifier game and if we won that we were in a quarter-final against Mayo a week later. I think we had no choice but to do what we did.”

But for what happened in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on July 6, their close-run thing with Mayo would have convinced many Cuthbert had overseen a promising debut season. Instead, he was subjected to some cutting criticism with chairman Bob Ryan at the end of the year hitting out at the negativity surrounding the team.

Cuthbert keeps his counsel on the brickbats thrown his way. “People are entitled to their opinion, absolutely, and people are passionate about Cork football and that’s all wonderful, but, at the end of the day, what matters is what we’re doing and how the team is going, the group itself and that’s where all my focus is. I can’t control what people think or say — that’s their own business. Once we’re moving forward, I’m happy enough.”

One of the charges levelled at Cuthbert was his sparing use of Colm O’Neill in the Munster campaign. O’Neill impressed in his starts against Sligo and Mayo, leaving some to feel he should have been one of the first names in the team from the outset of the Championship campaign.

Was he over-protective of O’Neill? “I don’t think so. When he was coming back I would have said June or July was always going to be a tiny bit too soon. In the two games that he started, I thought he did very well. It was just a case that last year we did really have to mind him because he was coming off the back of three ACL injuries. I don’t know anybody else playing who has done it three times. He’s a very special player and I wanted to make sure he was going to be playing many more years for Cork and if I was to foresake three or four months of last season for that to happen I was happy out. He’s playing McGrath Cup on Sunday and he’s very healthy.”

With four trips to Ulster in their seven game league programme starting next month, Cuthbert indicates the spring will be more a fact-finding mission than a competition they want to go one better in this season.

“The way the season pans out for everyone the McGrath Cup is about experimentation as is the early part of the league. Everything is geared towards Championship. We’ll be taking the league as it comes. We’ll want to do well in all the games but especially the Championship games.”

With Aidan Walsh having left for the hurlers, forming a new midfield will be a priority but at least the panel will be settled this year.

“For the sake of our group, you’re up against teams who have their players all the time as such and last year proved difficult. The players along with the management decided it was unsustainable. We’re disappointed to lose two very good players but we know there are opportunities for somebody else.”

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