Mike Quirke: Cork has a huge natural oil reserve... they just don’t know how to drill for it

There was very little to raise the collective pulse of the 11,000-plus spectators at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney last Sunday… well, besides when the stadium announcer called out the half-time score from Semple Stadium.

Once Gooch’s shot for a point deceived Clare’s Joe Hayes in goal within the first 60 seconds, the fire alarm started to ring. Once that horrendous start was compounded minutes later when Stephen O’Brien was on the end of a slick Kerry move to finish to the net via both uprights, the sprinklers should have come on. The contest was dead.

It could have descended into a drubbing. But in fairness to the Clare players, they spared their travelling support from the really gory stuff… they buckled but never broke.

Kicking 17 points in Killarney is a credible day’s work by any opposition. From Kerry’s point of view, it must be becoming increasingly difficult to take each game on its own merits. By that I mean, each time Kerry now take to the field, their performance is being judged not only against their direct opponents, but also by their ability to scratch the growing itch that they haven’t been able to reach: How would that performance measure up against Dublin?

The Leinster champions have become Gaelic football’s barometer of excellence and consistency. Every game played by the chasing pack is turning into an audition for what can be done differently to close the gap, either personnel wise or with game-plan adjustments.

And that’s the quandary the Kerry management now find themselves in; trying to get their players to take each of these games as an individual entity while remaining cognisant of using the games to develop a system not to just compete against the Dubs, but to beat them. Realistically, what did Kerry learn from beating Clare? Very little. What learning will take place from playing Tipperary in a Munster final? I would respectfully suggest not a lot.

And that leads Kerry into a quarter-final against a qualifier in early August with an open draw. If they avoid one of the big Ulster teams, like they did last year when they drew and demolished Kildare, Kerry could potentially arrive into a semi-final against the Dubs with no real competitive action since the league final against the same opposition a few months previous.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice must try to find something more valuable in these games than just the result. While Kerry have that luxury of being able to plan ahead, Cork must feel more like a punchdrunk boxer staggering around the ring, unable to raise his hands high enough to protect himself.

Last week, I wrote about the leadership and vision of the Dublin County Board to launch their ‘Blue Wave’ strategy a number of years ago to target significant improvement in the fortunes of GAA within the county. They formulated a strategic plan, acquired the finances and followed through by putting boots on the ground to help out clubs, schools, and development squads in the county – they invested in people. They drew down €1.46 million from Central Council for games development the past couple of years, which they matched themselves through finance generated through the clubs and sponsorship recruitment to get over 50 full-time coaches working the county.

Cork, on the other hand, are splurging an estimated €78 million on the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh, while their county teams and development squads continue to scramble, cap in hand, to agreeable clubs for use of their facilities. I guess it will be a great venue for summer concerts and for maybe one big game each year. But I know for sure that €78m would provide a huge number of full-time games development coaching jobs in the county for a very long time.

And I don’t mean in any way to denigrate the achievement of Tipperary in beating one of Munster’s big two for the first time in 72 years, but this result says more to me about how far Cork have fallen rather than how much Tipp have risen. There are nearly 260 affiliated GAA clubs in Cork, more than any other county in Ireland. Fair enough, that includes hurling and football only clubs as well as dual outfits but there are only 70-odd in Tipperary.

And let’s be honest here, for all the staggering underage development work done in Tipp in the past 10 years, this was a depleted Tipperary side, who have had much stronger teams in recent years.

This year alone they have lost three of their key young players in Colin O’Riordan to the AFL, and Steven O’Brien and Seamus Kennedy to the hurling squad. Never mind the few boys who pulled the plug after the National League to head Stateside for a summer of craic agus ceol. I bet they had a few pangs of regret with their pints of Magners on Sunday evening.

In total, this was a Tipperary team down 10 or 11 potential starters to their side.

Cork have always struck me as the county sitting on the largest natural oil reserve in the country. It’s right there just under the surface, but they don’t have the wherewithal or drilling equipment to get it out and harness it.

The bottom line is, with the huge volume of players at their disposal, Cork shouldn’t be losing to Tipperary, especially a Tipp shorn of so many of its top performers. Legitimate excuses can be made by Cork about the absence of adequate training facilities and a lack of leadership at board level, but ultimately, as it was last year under Brian Cuthbert, Peadar Healy and his players are the ones who had ultimate control of their own destiny once they crossed the white line of Semple stadium.

Cork GAA is in the midst of an identity crisis. The longer it takes to find the answers, the more arduous it will be to climb back out of the deep hole they find themselves in.

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