Former Cork football manager Conor Counihan says the Rebels face a “tough challenge” this weekend in their Munster SFC opener against Tipperary.
The 2010 All-Ireland-winning boss adds that player absences have hampered Cork’s preparations, but he admires Tipperary’s consistency: “You have to look at them and where they are and where they were. The league performances were consistent, they’ve been to an All-Ireland semi-final, Stephen O’Brien is back — they’re consistent and it’s going to be a tough challenge for Cork.
“But Cork have a lot of good footballers if they can produce it on the day. The league campaign was disappointing from the point of view that Cork missed fellas, there were some injured and some away with Nemo on their All-Ireland club run. You’d just hope they can put it together on the day.
The Aghada clubman admires Tipperary’s resilience: “They didn’t come out of nowhere either, in fairness. They’d have a few people involved in football there — I’d be up there the odd time — and those people would be hardened campaigners in terms of doing their bit, and that can work well.
“For instance, they’d know they have those 20 players or whatever, rather than 35, so there’s no chopping and changing. Everyone knows where they stand.
“Off the field they’d have that core of three or four fellas who’d be fighting the system on their behalf all the time, so they’re resilient — they have to be, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. They’re making the most out of what they have.”
Counihan, who says Cork supporters “need to be realistic” in their expectations, wants more underage success.
“We need to get back winning minor titles and U21s to give fellas coming through the system confidence, because we haven’t been doing that for a while, and it’s an issue.
“Winning minor titles isn’t always a guarantee of success either, but what it does is it gives players an extended involvement.
“Cork (minors) were beaten by Kerry in Tralee in the Munster Championship and that’s it, gone before the summer even begins. There’s nowhere for those players to go for the rest of the year, and some of them would be from small, rural clubs: How does the set-up develop them as players?
Last year Cork grabbed a dramatic late win over Tipperary in Páirc Uí Rinn which may have forewarned the Premier County.
“Last year was significant in that Cork showed a good bit of bottle to come back from where they were,” says Counihan. “The other side of that is it’s probably put Tipp on their guard, to think ‘lads, we’ll have to push this one right down to the wire’.
“That mightn’t help Cork this year, and neither will the fact that Tipp are at home. That’s worth something too.”
In the wider Gaelic football world Counihan finds it difficult to look past Dublin as likely All-Ireland winners, though he doesn’t see them as invincible.
“I don’t think there is a team to beat them, based on last year’s form, but having said that you have to be very careful. Look at Mayo-Galway a couple of Sundays ago — the Mayo player (Diarmuid O’Connor) gets sent off and they lose a very tight game. The same in last year’s All-Ireland final. That’s how the year can go.
“Say Ciaran Kilkenny picks up an injury or some other crucial Dublin player. Jim Gavin’s a very good manager but if Brogan is gone, Connolly, then you have to see if the fellas who are next in line are as good as everyone thinks they are. And they probably aren’t.
“Galway pushed Dublin in the league final — even if Dublin weren’t at full strength, they still showed how to get at Dublin. And Galway’s age profile is good compared to the likes of Michael Darragh Macauley, Paul Flynn, Stephen Cluxton, fellas who have a lot of football played.
“I don’t know if I’d back them for the All-Ireland, but if you asked me who I would put my money on I’d find it hard enough to answer.
“Mayo lost Tom Parsons last week, Lee Keegan is not back. It’s hard to say how Kerry are fixed.They’ve brought through some good young players, but can they all deliver at the same time?”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved