Seán Hayes would know more than most that Cork’s performances at senior level haven’t really reflected the talent or promise of the county over the past few years.
He’s had a successful stint as manager with the U21s and is now double jobbing with the seniors and U20s, but with the senior setup it’s very much a case of new year, new leaf.
“I know the lads from last year and they tried their best and we all have different styles of management but all of the senior players have bought into what Ronan is doing. The U21 fellas, we’ve had four great years with them. We got to one All-Ireland final, one semi-final, and one Munster final, and last year was the one year we left ourselves down but we did have a lot of injuries and trouble last year that we could do nothing about, and Kerry were good as well. I wouldn’t have a fear of Kerry or anything like that in the senior.”
And why should he? Hayes is a Nemo man, and Nemo are very much the exception to the rule when it comes to football in Cork. This was never more apparent than last November when they unceremoniously ended Dr Crokes’ reign as All-Ireland champions in the Munster club final. Understandably, he believes the talent is there in Cork, it just needs to be developed.
“Without a doubt. In Nemo we like to win every competition but we’ve no worries about winning U14, U15, it’s from 16 to minor on when you want to start winning. That’s what developing players is and with Cork it’s the exact same. Senior is the one to win but minor to U20 is very important as a stepping stone. These guys want to play and that’s the most important thing. If they listen and learn they’re going in the right direction.”
Against Tipperary, Cork hinted they may well be going in the right direction.
“We got it right that day and we beat a very good Tipp team who on paper deserved to be favourites. But I’d no fear going up playing Tipperary because I knew the work that the lads had done and if they could transfer that work from the training pitch to the match pitch we’d do OK — and that’s what happened.
“Saturday is the exact same, to try and keep working, and we have kept working, and try and transfer it all onto the field again.”
Many may have been disappointed with Cork’s progress in Division 2 but may have ignored the hefty list of absentees at various stages and for various reasons. Hayes and his colleagues never made an issue of it and are very much of the Johan Cruyff school of thought in that every disadvantage has its advantage.
“Our whole dream for the league was, well yeah try and go up to Division 1, but the other side was to develop players and make sure that they were able to play at that level. Through the reasons that you say (injuries, Nemo’s success), we actually got that opportunity and still survived in Division 2. Coming up to the Clare game we actually had a chance of going up and a chance of being relegated so that goes to show how tight it was. Tipperary beat us but when it came to championship, we beat them. It is a learning process, it is about improving players and I think we achieved our goal that way.”
It’s a realistic and grounded approach that has served Cork well to date and will continue to do so, come what may on Saturday night.
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