Cork legend Niall Cahalane believes the county’s Munster SFC semi-final defeat to Tipperary on Sunday had been “coming down the tracks”.
The Rebels were beaten by 3-15 to 2-16 in Thurles as Tipp recorded a first senior championship win over Cork since 1944 - two Kevin O’Halloran points securing victory after an unanswered 1-6 had drawn the visitors level.
Two-time All-Star Cahalane’s last time togging out for Cork was the defeat to Clare in 1997 – he was an unused sub – and he feels that, while there has been provincial U21 success, it hasn’t papered over cracks.
“I wonder has this been coming down the tracks with a while, and if we have had our heads in the sand a bit?” the Castlehaven man asks.
“We’ve prided ourselves on the Munster titles won by the U21 teams, but none of them has won an All-Ireland since 2009 and the lads on those teams trained by Tony Leahy and John Cleary are in their mid-to-late 20s now, so it’s not like we’re waiting for young guys to fulfil their potential.
“I don’t want to play the blame game, I especially don’t want to blame the players as I know the efforts that they put in, but something has gone wrong somewhere.
“The team is in a state of transition, and I think the county really needed the All-Ireland U21 win, but sport can be cruel and they lost it in the space of about six minutes, three at the end of the first half and three at the end of the second half.”
Cork will now enter the All-Ireland qualifiers at the round 2 stage next month. Cahalane isn’t writing off the season, but accepts that a quick turnaround is required.
“They showed last year in the drawn game against Kerry that they can compete,” he says, “they looked the real deal but then the replay and the Kildare game were almost the opposite. When they came back to draw level with Tipp, most people would have expected them to push on.”
“There’s no reason, if they get a couple of good draws, for Cork not to progress in the qualifiers. They won’t win the All-Ireland but they can show that they’re in the top six or eight teams.”
Another former Cork star, Joe Kavanagh also believes some pride can be restored in the qualifiers
“The lads will have time off now, they’ll be able to go back to their clubs, forget about the game and then come back refreshed,” he says.
“I wouldn’t write them off, but the break is a godsend. You might even say that they’re not spending enough time with their clubs, maybe they should be playing more club games and training less with Cork. You’d hope it was complacency on Sunday, if it was then it’s something that can be turned around. It’s if it’s not that you’d be worrying.”
In the qualifiers, Kavanagh would like to see youth given its fling.
“Lifting confidence is the main thing,” he says. “If the management are talking about building for the next few years, then why not throw in these young lads?
“Cork probably aren’t All-Ireland contenders, so you might as well give these lads experience.”
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