Colm O'Rourke: Rebels' pitch problems begin in the background
Published 19/06/2016 | 12:00
Something is rotten in the State of Denmark, as the line from Hamlet informed us. It is spoken by one of the palace guards after he sees the ghost of the old king walking on the palace walls. There were probably a few saying the same thing in Cork after the defeat to Tipperary last Sunday. There are plenty of old ghosts, in a mortal form, walking the streets as a reminder that Cork once had both footballers and hurlers.
What appears worse now is that the spirit of resistance which manifested itself in player revolts in the past is not there any more either. At least then both the public and the players cared, now it seems from the outside as if there is absolute indifference. Perhaps the players are too embarrassed to risk comment. They would certainly leave themselves open to rebuke. If they don't have the passion for playing in the red jersey then they are not in a position to lecture others on how things should be done.
All of this may appear to downgrade the achievement of Tipperary, who battled against some of their best players being injured, going to America, Australia or being absent for other reasons, to record this win. The momentum that was building behind Tipperary seemed to have stalled on the basis of those absences which makes the victory for Liam Kearns and his believers even more noteworthy. What it does show is that if Tipperary gave up this infatuation with hurling and concentrated all their energies on football then they would be winning Munster titles on a regular basis!
Yet the game again exposed that there is something fundamentally wrong with Cork, a county which should be capable of winning a football All-Ireland in every decade. Commenting from outside is difficult, and just because the county side are not going well does not necessarily mean that football is in a poor state. If there was a choice between a very vibrant club scene and a county side being successful at the cost of club football then it an easy choice.
There is no doubt that the emphasis on county football in Cork and Kerry is entirely different. Football in Cork is well behind hurling in the public affections for a start, and playing football for Kerry means a certain status. In Cork, it means nothing except possible disruption to the club schedule. So why would Cork players be unduly concerned by public hostility, even if it existed, when success or failure means very little to the general supporter?
The big question for the future is how seriously the Cork GAA family is going to treat their county sides. Where does it fit in with club football? What sort of time and budget will be given over to the various underage teams? What sort of management structure will be put in place to oversee this vast operation?
Some of course argue that what is needed is some type of benign dictatorship to completely overhaul the existing structures. Of course the players in the past argued that they had that already and it was not working and will not work in the future.
Anyway, a few things are clear. Munster needs a strong Cork in football. Kerry need it more than they think too. A bit like Leinster, where Meath were a traditional opposition to Dublin. The whole country needs Cork to be a powerful force as the list of contenders narrows further.
There are a few simple things which Cork could do but in Cork that probably means that it is very complicated. They must decide where county football fits into the overall plan for football. If Cork were to say that their club scene is the best organised in the country with all players getting regular games and those games being played at a high standard, then you could forgive a lack of success at county level. After all, looking after number one, the club player, is often preached but seldom practised. Judging by club competitions at senior level, Cork are hardly brand leaders.
The first thing is to invest and invest wisely - and not by building a new stadium in a place which is inaccessible and seldom used. That is the equivalent of the Taj Mahal without the tourism revenue. A small stadium suitable for club finals and training facilities for all county teams is what each county should be about, and have one big stadium in each province for provincial finals. It would save Cork a fortune on what they plan to spend. The real investment should be in people, with coaches employed for the primary schools to build links with clubs. That is much more important than a slab of concrete.
When these sort of problems erupt in a county people always talk about a lack of structures. Nobody knows exactly what that means but it is a great phrase to throw about. What this should mean is that every county has a minimum number of games for each age category, that big numbers are on county development squads for more intensive coaching rather than small elites, that they are resourced properly in terms of gear so that other young players can see that this looks the part, and that all underage coaches are given whatever help is required to ensure that they use best practice. Above all, there has to be a philosophy of excellence and an unquestionable integrity in everything that is done.
Then there is the question of management at all levels. In Cork over the last decade the selection of the senior team management is a saga which has been played out in public. They need to do their business with a bit more decorum and there is always the impression that those whose faces don't fit need not apply. This job is too big to leave it to a popularity contest for club delegates and every county should pick their manager on the basis of who is best.
In other words, a decision should be taken on who the best person is and they should be tracked down and given all the assistance they need. The idea of clubs or delegates nominating people is great for democracy, but the type of person needed for many of these jobs, at underage and senior, don't apply and need to be leaned on. Incidentally, current manager Peadar Healy was very sporting in defeat last Sunday, on a day which must have been very difficult for him.
So when people in Cork or anywhere else lash out after a defeat and call for radical change, they need to know specifically what they are talking about. It may sound good, but there have to be policies instead of catch phrases.
Two counties who are doing things fairly right at all levels clash in Clones today. Cavan would probably be quite happy if progress this year could be marked by an Ulster Championship and incremental gains are bringing them closer. However, they are now running into the big hound of Ulster and there was a marked difference in the Allianz League Division 2 final in Croke Park.
Tyrone are a bit slicker, a bit more advanced, a bit better organised and ultimately have more better players. Cavan have improved a lot in a year but they are still a bit behind Tyrone. They would need to prevent goals and be in front at half-time to make the second half interesting. It might be asking too much. Lots of old and not so old ghosts around these two counties and it is obvious that Tyrone are now relying only on their football ability.
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