Former Cork captain Pat Mulcahy believes the absence of spirit in Cork hurling has manifested itself in the county’s performances at senior, U21, and minor level.
Mulcahy, who admits he is sick of how the county has been patronised during their recent difficulties, senses recent history of off-field difficulties has transferred onto the playing field.
Reviewing Sunday’s defeat in Kilkenny, he says: “The first half was quite strong but the heads dropped almost straight away in the second half. It’s almost as if the spirit drained out of the team. Kilkenny upped the ante and there was no comeback.
“Overall, the new guys looked quite well and in terms of hooks, blocks and work-rate they seemed to have it, whereas the older fellas didn’t seem to have that level of intensity especially 10 minutes into the second half. The heads dropped.
“The spirit seems to have gone out of Cork hurling, which is an awful shame. It’s harsh on the senior lads and I know a lot of them personally and they’re good lads but the spirit isn’t there for some reason. We have to open up the wounds that are there and discuss them. It’s the spirit we need to mend. The spirit is the (Brian) Cody mantra. We have the people, the hunger is there but the spirit needs to be too.”
Observers believe Cork lack a physical edge and have been left behind by bigger teams like Kilkenny, Tipperary, Galway and Waterford, whose change in size was noticeable last year. But Mulcahy argues it has little to do with physique.
“I think so much of that is psychological. If you want to play at that level, you absolutely have to be on the edge and you have to have everything behind you. You have to have a county behind you, a county board behind you, you have to have an incredibly united group and fellas who are best friends almost.
“You can see it in Tipperary at the moment and it isn’t in Cork. When I talk about the spirit, I’m not talking about the team but the spirit around the county. To be honest, there is still an undercurrent there from our troubles over the last 10 years. The debate about the stadium, whether it’s right or wrong, and it will be fantastic for Cork city but I’m not so sure about Cork GAA, that’s all there in the mix.
“There’s an apathy there and that feeds into everything. Last year, the Cork minors were five points up on Tipp with 20 minutes to go and they were cruising. They lost and Tipp went on to win the All-Ireland.
“Two years ago, Waterford bullied Cork in Cork and again the spirit was missing. It’s being reflected on the pitch but it’s not because of the guys on the pitch.”
In terms of short-term goals, Mulcahy sees admission as the first step towards recovery.
“There has to be an acknowledgement there are issues and that’s not to undermine the people who are doing great work in Cork at underage level. There has to be an acknowledgement that we’ve got things wrong in the last 15 years. At the highest level, if there is an acceptance that mistakes were made and we’re behind the curve then I think it’s a great start. You have to acknowledge your mistakes before you can work on them and improve but the solution at the moment is to sweep things under the carpet.
“Talking to fellas, there is great work being done at underage level but it’s not all coming together at the very top. In simple terms, that’s the very first step. For a county with a population of 500,000 people, being beaten by counties of 50,000 and 60,000... the law of probability says we should be beating and intimidating these teams like Dublin are in football. We’re not.
“Where is the might of Cork gone? It’s not there and generally it’s because of the apathy of Cork people to Cork hurling.”
Mulcahy admits he is fed up with the sympathy now shown by those outside the county towards Cork’s hurling woes.
“It grates me. First of all, for people to be passing comment on Cork kinda hurts, either positive or negative, because the positive things that are being said about Cork maybe they’re happy to have Cork competitive but not winning.
“I’ve seen articles over the last couple of years where people feel they can have a cut off Cork. It’s because we’re not as united as we should be and we’re almost accepting of it. If somebody has a cut off a Kilkenny player, Eddie Keher or someone will be in the paper the following day supporting his player. There’s a united front there but you don’t see that in Cork.
“That sense of ‘you’re doing great work, lads winning U16 and U17 competitions... it’s great in its own way but it grates the fact you require people outside Cork to say you’re doing fine. It’s not a nice feeling. It’s a bit patronising.”
Ahead of Cork's visit to Walsh Park on Sunday, Mulcahy sees plenty of promise in Cork’s young players.
“Luke Meade might not be the highly-skilled, class player at the moment but he has serious potential. If he was in Kilkenny or Tipp, he would be looked at because he breaks lines and causes teams problems.
“If you can find a couple more like him, Kieran (Kingston) has nothing to lose in throwing them in as long as they are given time.”
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