Cork manager Brian Cuthbert believes the enjoyment has gone out of the game for players due to the massive commitment they have to put in.
Players are putting as much time into their inter-county training as they are into their job each week and as a result, the focus has become completely results orientated.
“It is because you have to consider the fact that there’s so much at stake for people,” he said.
“There’s so much at stake for the players, the management, supporters. Players put so much into it compared to 10-15 years ago. It’s a full-on commitment. For the guys who are working, they’re putting as much time into this as they are into their work. The guys in college are probably putting more time into this than they are into their study. It’s a huge commitment. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that it’s a game of football.
“It’s something that when you are five and played out in the back garden and wanted to be a Cork footballer, sometimes if you can get guys back to that and playing with more freedom maybe you get better performances. There’s so much analysis done on opposition and thought put into the teams they’re going to play that they get bogged down.”
That’s why Cuthbert is embracing the positives in the build-up and has called on his players to enjoy the experience. The youthful look to his side is key to that as he hopes the younger players fearlessness will rub off on the older members of the squad.
“I look at all of our games as opportunities to express themselves. The championship games, sometimes people focus on the negative side and the pressure they bring rather than the joy side of playing.
“With our group, we have guys who are very experienced and guys who are starting out. The guys starting out are learning from the older guys about what this brings. At the same time I’d love the older guys to take the shackles off and have the complete freedom of a fella who is 20 rather than 28 who knows what’s coming down the tracks.
“Somewhere in between both of those is probably somewhere we’re going to. Whether we’ve got there in time for Sunday I’m not sure.
Certainly I like players to be exuberant and I like fellas to enjoy being with us.”
Finding that balance has become the biggest challenge now for inter-county managers.
“I think so. It’s a lot to do with the make up of the group and the environment it operates in.
“I think you must strive to get that balance right between the ethos of hard work and respect and unity and loyalty within the group, but at the same time have a complete understanding that there’s lots of tougher things in life to face than a marker of renown in a championship game.”
However, when the team’s leadership qualities were questioned, he dismissed the charge. Graham Canty, Pearse O’Neill, Paudie Kissane, Noel O’Leary, Alan Quirke and Alan O’Connor retired from the inter-county scene last year while Ciarán Sheehan signed with AFL side Carlton Blues.
Without the spine of the side from the last 10 years, Cuthbert’s team impressed when beating Kerry in the McGrath Cup final and topping the Allianz FL Division 1 table. However, a shaky performance against Tipperary led to accusations they were lacking leaders.
“I’d disagree with that. I think it’s easy to say that when six or seven guys retire. The simple thing to say when Cork aren’t going well is that Cork lack leaders,” he said.
“I’d like to think that Aidan [Walsh] and Eoin [Cadogan] and Damien [Cahalane] are huge assets to us. We brought two of them on the last day and they acquitted themselves very well. To me the game was what the game was. Personally I don’t think it had anything to do with leadership.
“That was shown at the end when Paddy Kelly and these guys played very well when we needed them to. Our group is a new group and they fill me with excitement and it’s now a question of producing it on the big days.
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