Wednesday 26 April 2017

No quick fix for Rebels as they wait for underage cavalry

Cork’s Mark Ellis shows his disappointment after defeat against Tipperary. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Cork’s Mark Ellis shows his disappointment after defeat against Tipperary. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The long-term future of Cork hurling is safe and sound. We need only to look back to a weekend at the end of last September, when the county's 'Rebel Og' squads claimed all seven trophies on offer in the national hurling tournament blitzes, for assurance that the cavalry will one day ride over the hill.

It was a remarkable achievement as A and B teams claimed success at U-14, U-15 and U-16 level, with their U-17s, this year's minors, putting the icing on the cake. In 24 matches played in seven tournaments they didn't lose once. Each squad, 48-strong, had been working diligently towards this conclusion for four months.

The blitzes have always been a decent benchmark for what's happening at developmental level so the lock down of every available trophy across four grades, including the coveted Tony Forristal Cup for U-14A squads and the Tipperary Supporters club tournament for U-16s - which incorporated wins over Tipperary and Kilkenny - bodes well for the future.

While it provides no guarantee of future success, such blanket dominance of the cream of underage tournaments has to yield something sustainable over the long term.

The idea that Cork have had their hands in their pockets when it comes to underage development may once have held true but no longer. Unlike the duck, however, while all is calm underneath, above the surface of the water there is more carnage.

Last year it looked like it couldn't get any worse for the Rebels when Galway tore them apart by 12 points in an All-Ireland quarter-final.

But Sunday's defeat to Tipp is every bit as bad, maybe even worse, given that conditions should have dictated a much tighter game.

Cork have now exited the last four championships (two Munster, two All-Ireland) by 12, 10, nine and four points.

Tipperary's dominance over them in Thurles on Sunday was just as pointed as it was in Croke Park for the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final.

Then, the six-week lay-off after their Munster final success over Limerick provided a cushion of very small comfort. This time the period of time between competitive games was the same for both teams, Tipperary's league quarter-final loss to Clare coming on the same weekend that Cork preserved Division 1A status in Galway with a surprise relegation play-off win.

More and more, Jimmy Barry Murphy's achievements with much the same group of players in the first three of his four years in charge look like a minor miracle, given how they had performed in the years before that.

Immediate remedial steps are not easy to plan. From a personnel point of view, new management are not blessed with a strong hand.

When seven players were released from the squad after this year's League, including former captains Pa Cronin and Shane O'Neill, it might have portrayed a new broom sweeping clean.

But it was tantamount to nothing more than moving the furniture around. While Tipperary could run in three debutants, Cork's starting 15 had a recycled feel to it, nothing to match the impetus provided by Seamus Kennedy, Dan McCormack and John McGrath.

Much focus has been on the deployment of a sweeper by Cork that cut against the grain of their traditional values.

But should tradition really dictate suitability of a sweeper to a team?

These are troubled times for Cork and there's no easy fix except a strong fix of patience.

Irish Independent

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