'Cork could have built team around Sheehan'
Cuthbert has gaps to fill as AFL-bound star joins Rebel exodus
EARLIER this year, Cork football doyen Billy Morgan mused as to whether Cork could be on the verge of a new period of domination in Munster.
It was the week of the Munster final against Kerry in Killarney. The Rebels hadn't won there since 1995, when Morgan managed Cork to a seventh Munster title in nine years to conclude a golden era for the Leesiders.
And all week the suggestion was that Cork could be in the ascendancy once more. After all, Kerry had been unconvincing in the league and looked a team on their last legs, giving the Rebels the chance to put a nail in the coffin of a great Kingdom team.
However, Kerry won the game and since then it has been Cork, and not the Kingdom, who have seen the bigger clear-out.
Tomas ó Se stepping away is Kerry's only defection to date. In the same time, Ciaran Sheehan's decision to opt for the AFL brings to four the number of players that started August's All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Dublin who won't be available next year. And the turnover the Cork squad has endured goes further than that.
A quick glance at the Cork team that won the All-Ireland in 2010 gives a glimpse of just how much of an overhaul the Rebels are undergoing.
Of the side that started the win over Down, eight won't play next year and there are rumours that Alan O'Connor could join them in retirement. Three of the four subs used that day are also no longer county players. For some, their race had been run but Sheehan's loss is much harder to fathom.
"It's a massive blow to Cork football," said double All-Ireland winner Colman Corrigan. "I'm very surprised by it. He is very important to Cork. I would have him down as a similar player to Tommy Walsh.
"He has great athleticism and a wonderful range of passing. I'm not surprised the AFL have signed him, he's the kind of player who can excel at anything but it's an incredible loss to Cork.
"You saw him this year against Dublin when he was very good at full-forward, he has a great leap. I don't know why he didn't start against Kerry in the Munster final but when he came on he changed the game.
"With all of the retirements we've seen in the last few weeks, Ciaran would be one of the lads you'd be looking to build your team around."
Incoming manager Brian Cuthbert is well placed to pass judgment on the emerging talent in Cork. He has been through the underage ranks, serving as selector and then manager at minor level before making the step up.
That underage system has seen the Rebels win nine Munster U-21 titles since the turn of the millennium but Corrigan, who served as a selector under Morgan in the middle of the last decade, sees some worrying gaps.
He points out that they have won just four provincial minor titles in the same period and insists the county aren't getting enough from the talent it is producing.
"We've had some great footballers and we have some serious talent but we are losing too many of them. We need to get the right people in the right places. Imagine Davey Barry coaching a Cork minor forward line, or Steven O'Brien or Jimmy Kerrigan. We have the talent but we need to win an All-Ireland in that grade."
Aidan Walsh and Damien Cahalane have been mentioned as potential dual players for 2014. And after reaching the All-Ireland final, Jimmy Barry-Murphy's side might look a much more appealing prospect but Corrigan believes the dual player just can't survive in today's game.
"I've seen up close just how modern players train and I don't think it can be done, particularly with hurling as it's so skill based," he said.
For all the absentees, Cork can still look to the likes of Colm O'Neill and Paddy Kelly (provided they recover from knee and hip injuries) next year and they could start in the forwards alongside Paul Kerrigan, Daniel Goulding and the exciting Brian Hurley.
"We have lost experience in crucial areas and you don't want to be losing any more players," added Corrigan. "You are going to have to find some midfielders and a couple of defenders.
"The league looks so important now to blood some new players. People talk about Cork's panel and its depth but you still can't afford to lose players like Ciaran Sheehan.
"They still have a good team. I still think they'll be in or around the top four next year. You're looking for leaders now and there's going to be pressure on some of the young lads to step up."