POISON chalice or glorious opportunity? If the profile of Cork football coach wasn’t high enough, the controversial departures of Billy Morgan and Teddy Holland has ensured it will be the most eagerly-watched drama of the 2008 GAA season.
Many believe it to be the impossible job, not least because the footballers will have a say in the appointment of the new coach. But for anyone who thrives in adversity, there’s reasons to be interested and optimistic. Some may forget that prior to Cork’s winter of absurdity, the Rebels reached an All-Ireland football final and the U21’s annexed a thrilling All-Ireland title, defeating Laois.
“There’s definitely opportunity there, but maybe not glorious,” mused All-Ireland winner Niall Cahalane yesterday. “There will have to be a lot of bridges mended over the coming months, but there is potential there for the new coach.”
The ‘people’s favourite’ is undoubtedly Conor Counihan. The Aghada man has “previous” with the County Board in Cork, but who hasn’t? The new coach must serve Cork football, not its County Board.
But who’d line-up alongside Counihan as selectors in an ideal world? His former playing colleague John Cleary is regarded as one of Cork’s brightest coaching prospects, and is already appointed as U21 coach this season.
However, Cork can learn from the mistakes of the past by bringing a degree of continuity to its management structure. One of the critical mistakes of recent times was the failure to groom a successor to Billy Morgan. But elevating Cleary and ex-U21 coach Tony Leahy to senior selectors would give Cork some long-term plan for football in the county — and give them a choice of coach down the line.
All-Ireland champions Kerry have already gone that road — appointing senior selector Sean Geaney as coach to the U21s.
Who else? Sean Hayes brings a wealth of experience and success, not just from Nemo Rangers, but from his highly successful stint in Youghal.
But the next Cork coach could not ignore the claims of West Cork, where there are now seven football clubs and two divisions competing in the senior championship.
Dohenys’ Brian Herlihy is a contender, but the relatively inexperienced Flor O’Driscoll and Jason Whooley did exceptionally well with Ilen Rovers last season — bringing them to a county final, and playing smart football along the way. They could inject a fresh impetus into a new Cork management team.
One potential Cork senior management: Conor Counihan (Aghada), John Cleary (Castlehaven), Sean Hayes (Nemo Rangers), Tony Leahy (St Finbarr’s), Flor O’Driscoll/Jason Whooley (Ilen Rovers).
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