The return of Dónal Óg Cusack to the Cork fray was never going to run smoothly. And the award for most obvious hurling statement in 2019, beating “Liam Sheedy has the x-factor” and “you can never write off Kilkenny”, goes to...
Had there been no mention of Jimmy Barry-Murphy being all but set to become the county’s new minor hurling manager and not Cusack, eyebrows were still going to be raised.
After all, this was a man who fully understood if not
accepted that after all his bashing of the board executive in the mid to latter part of his time in the county jersey that his face might not fit.
The change at the top of the board 10 months ago may have allowed Cusack to openly speak of his interest in the senior position vacated by John Meyler without mentioning in the same breath that he hadn’t a hope but he remains a divisive character.
Of course, there is more than a touch of irony about Cusack taking over a position that seemed as if it was readied for Barry-Murphy, the man who both began and finished Cusack’s Cork career as he did Cusack’s proposed selector Seán Óg Ó hAilpín.
As Barry-Murphy noted afterwards: “There’s a lot of players around Cork I’ll tell you wouldn’t be thinking too nicely of me for what I’ve done over the years.”
If there are queries about Barry-Murphy from club delegates at this evening’s county board meeting, the executive’s response will be interesting.
Cusack, though, won’t take much if any pleasure out of Barry-Murphy’s apparent difficulty with the one-year term being his opportunity. All he wanted was a chance and he looks set to get it now.
That being said, the term is an unusually short one.
When asked in August if he wanted to succeed Meyler, Cusack queried what term would be given so surely he has concerns now that he has less than 12 months with the minors.
That Jamie Wall is not involved is difficult to fathom given the sterling work he has done with the Cork U16s who claimed the recent Eugene Carey tournament, not to mention his Fitzgibbon Cup success with Mary Immaculate College.
If his services are lost completely, it will be a blow and it’s not as if he will be short of suitors elsewhere.
Listen to the bush telegraph and you will hear that while Noel Furlong has been given a two-year term as U16 manager he could be promoted to the minor gig in 2021. At the same time, Kieran Kingston may well decide not to stay on after 2020 and Pat Ryan could ascend, leaving the U20 role free for Cusack to fill.
The decision by the Cork executive to release details of their four management teams at the same time points to a succession plan but they have so often proven to be tricky things.
Look at how Peter Keane skipped U20 to take over the seniors in Kerry when it appeared Jack O’Connor was shaping up for a third tilt at the senior gig. Dessie Farrell and Peter Canavan continue to wait in the wings in Dublin and Tyrone, Liam Cahill is on his way to Waterford on the back of huge under-age success in Tipperary and how many pretenders to the throne in Kilkenny have had to make do with being selectors for Brian Cody?
However, presented as a whole and not just in the recommendation of Cusack, there is a message conveyed by the appointments — it’s time to make peace. In every management team, there is an association with the county’s last great era. Overlooked as John Allen’s successor in 2006, Ger Cunningham might have thought at more than one stage he would never return to the Cork senior ticket.
Missing, at least for the moment, are the likes of former captains Ben O’Connor and Pat Mulcahy, the latter who spoke three years ago about how Cork needed to heal from the various strikes if it was to move forward.
The thaw began with Diarmuid O’Sullivan being named as part of Kingston’s set-up in late 2015 and continued through with Kieran ‘Fraggy’ Murphy and Tom Kenny, if only briefly, linking up with Meyler.
All three would be more acceptable to certain factions than Cusack but it can no longer be about the Cloyne man serving penance in the wilderness.
Facts are facts: Between senior, U20 and minor, Cork will be a combined 55 seasons without an All-Ireland hurling title by the time 2020 rolls around. Cusack played in the county’s last triumphs in all three of those grades.
Is his recommendation to the minor job one for the optics? Perhaps. But there’s enough hurling credibility there to trump symbolism.
Who would deny Cluxton top spot?
The shortlisting of Stephen Cluxton as a footballer of the year contender poses a real doozy for his peers in the coming weeks not least his Dublin team-mates — just how do they pick between their captain, Con O’Callaghan, who was arguably the best player this season, and Jack McCaffrey?
That McCaffrey claimed a footballer of the year award back in 2015 would be one reason to rule him out of the reckoning, if not for a disappointing All-Ireland semi-final and the hamstring injury, which prompted his half-time replacement in the final replay.
McCaffrey is a worthy nominee but to our mind Paul Mannion was worthier.
Players may consider time is on the side of previous young footballer of the yearO’Callaghan who, at 23, and with no plans to switch to inter-county hurling just yet, if ever, has ample opportunity to be honoured with the top individual accolade in the future.
Both McCaffrey and O’Callaghan picked up TV man of the match awards this year, unlike Cluxton, but the level of consistency in the performances of the goalkeeper was such that he was an obvious candidate.
If his conversation with James McCarthy is anything to go by — and it has been pointed out to us that he also waved to the crowd after last year’s All-Ireland final so lest we read any more into that gesture — he will be back for more next year.
But there would be an appropriateness to him being crowned with the accolade not because he, within reason, missed out in the four previous All-Ireland winning seasons but for his longetivity, his utter influence on the game itself and having set the standards in person for Dublin to achieve the five in a row.
Extra mark is offensive to football
There is still plenty of time to debate the rights, wrongs and downright vagueness of the proposed second tier All-Ireland championship before the motion is debated at the coming Special Congress in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 18 days’ time.
What won’t get as much attention is the proposed extension of the mark in Gaelic football so that it can be made by a forward or defender inside the 45-metre line providing it has been kicked at least 20m and caught cleanly.
The climate for such a rule change isn’t too pretty when the flow of young Gaelic footballers signing rookie contracts or trialling with Australian Rules clubs shows no signs of abating.
Optics is one thing; aping another sport is completely another and the GAA has to be extremely careful about a misguided attempt to enshrine high-fielding with extending the definition of a free to rewarding a skill that isn’t limited to fielding overhead ball.
Was the proposal to limit marks to inside the 20m line, there mightn’t be as much of an issue. In our experiences of the offensive mark during this year’s National League, forwards were catching unchallenged lateral kicks into and below their chests inside the 45m line.
Kicking the ball over from such distances may be a skill but fetching them in areas where there are less likely to be marked ranks pretty low as one.
The introduction of the sin bin and bringing all kick-outs to the 20m line are commendable measures but making the entire pitch a markable zone would be a bad step.