In 2010, Cork won their first All-Ireland football title in twenty years. Having appeared in two finals in the four years prior to the 2010 triumph, many felt that the victory was well deserved.
Cork football was on the up. Many people in Cork had become disenfranchised with the hurlers and the strikes they had called throughout the mid 2000’s. Cork had a young side and were expected to dominant for the next few years. All seemed rosy by the Lee.
Now we cut to 2018 and Cork football has never been in a worse state of affairs, lucky to survive in Division 2 of the league this past spring.
For so long Cork were vying for Kerry’s spot as the number one team in Munster, now they aren’t even a close second and routinely struggle to get past promising Tipperary and Clare sides.
Tyrone probably did them a favour by knocking them out of the championship before the Super 8s kicked off. Cork would have only suffered embarrassing defeats to the likes of Dublin and Donegal if they had got that far.
So what do Cork have to do to reclaim their place at football’s top table?
Speaking on The Sunday Game, Michael Foley of The Sunday Times suggested that it’s no one particular thing that has got Cork to this stage, not the manager, the county board or the players.
Foley is right that there isn’t one particular issue that is holding Cork football back, rather an amalgamation of all these issues.
Foley then suggested that a revamp of the senior panel is needed if Cork want things to change.
A clearout would suggest getting rid of older players who are over the hill. However, when you look through Cork’s senior panel it’s interesting to notice that the majority of the players are in fact in their early to mid-20s.
While Donnacha O’Connor has now announced his retirement after Cork’s championship exit, it may not be time for the likes of Paul Kerrigan and James Loughrey to throw in the towel just yet.
Sadly Colm O’Neill has had to announce his retirement from inter-county football at the age of 29, after three cruciate injuries in the past decade. O’Neill has fought back bravely from each one, however, after another cartilage tear to his knee in the Munster semi-final to Tipperary, O’Neill has decided to call it a day with Cork.
Like I said previously, the Cork panel are young and need some older heads that have experienced victory with Cork to help guide them into the future.
So if a clearout is needed it will be from the younger members of the panel where the upheaval will come from, that may seem harsh on some young players, but it may very well give them the kick they need to improve and comeback stronger.
Nothing coming through
This next point follows on from the last, if it is going to be the younger players who are dropped from the panel, they will have to be replaced by a new batch of young players.
Over the past six years Cork have captured the Munster Under-21 championship three times.
This success at underage level has not equated to the Cork senior team, while the majority of the players from those Under-21 teams have made it to the senior panel they have been unable to carry from their underage success or others have switched codes to hurling.
Kerry have been getting all the spotlight and plaudits for their ability to mix their underage players with their more experienced players and deservedly so, the new look Kerry we have seen so far in the championship look like a team that could be very special in a few years time.
What Kerry have done is not rocket science and Cork could very well do the same with their underage players.
However, there seems to be more of a desire in Kerry to get these underage players to a level where they can just go out and blitz senior teams and that doesn’t just come from management but from the county board as well, and that is something Cork just don’t have.
A change in attitude
Tomás Ó Sé said on The Sunday Game that Cork is not a football county and that everything is geared towards hurling, not just from a county board level but from everybody and that football has to essentially take a backseat.
I’m sure there are people on the Cork county board that would take offence to Ó Sé’s comments, but on the other hand I’m sure the majority of Cork football fans would agree with his statements.
One interesting point Ó Sé raised was that Cork should consider splitting the county board and have one for hurling and one for football, à la Galway.
While that structure has worked well for Galway over the years, it is very unlikely that the Cork county board and county secretary Frank Murphy will allow this to happen.
Cork manager Ronan McCarthy said after Saturday’s defeat to Tyrone that Cork are back to square one again, that is possibly the best place for Cork football right now.
Let McCarthy stay on for the remainder of his three year deal with Cork, allow him the winter now to take stock of his options and see if he can rebuild the structure and go from there.
So what next?
If Cork fans are expecting this team to be All-Ireland contenders next year, then they will be bitterly disappointed.
Cork should take a leaf out of Carlow’s playbook and focus on set goals over the next two to three years, using each goal as a building block towards becoming All-Ireland contenders once again.
It may annoy Cork people to see their team being compared to Carlow, but Carlow have improved greatly over the past few years, thanks to playing a system that gets the most of their players, while having these set goals in place.
It might sound ridiculous but it just might work.
GAA columnist with the GAA Wrap.