Rebels pay price for failure of production line
Published 09/06/2015 | 02:30
A couple of general observations that go against modern wisdom over the weekend. In Derry, the 31-year-old Eoin Bradley showed plenty of neat touches, strength and speed to put in a commanding performance as Derry scraped home to a first Ulster Championship win for four years.
Bradley has been mixing his time between Irish League soccer side Glenavon and Derry since Brian McIver reneged on the position he took last year that the player could not serve two sporting masters in parallel.
But McIver recognised last season that Bradley offered something different and for relaxing the requirement for exclusive commitment, Derry got a big return from him. So much for nose-to-the-grind commitment to the one cause all year round.
Further south, Brian Murphy (below) dispelled that theory too with a typically accomplished performance for the Cork hurlers against Waterford. This just over two weeks out from his return to the inter-county game after an 18-month absence.
It was a gamble in a crisis that paid off for the Cork management, probably the only success they can claim after a harrowing few weeks that has plunged the county team into something a crisis that it couldn't have envisaged last July when they Munster title was recaptured in a fond farewell to Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
In an overall context the question has to be asked: how did it come to that in the first place, that a management had to go back to a retired defender, albeit a 32-year-old with a reputation for getting a job done?
As successful as the Murphy recall ultimately was, it pointed to a wider problem, reflecting the sparse resources currently underpinning Cork hurling.
The same reflection was thrown back by the catapulting of Aidan Ryan into the full-back position for the league final in his first competitive game in five years. That one didn't go so well. A second defeat in five weeks to Waterford has really served to shine a light on a Cork hurling at a macro level.
"We're paying the price for our lack of success at underage and schools level, no doubt about that now. And I'm not even saying that we should be winning All-Irelands," said former All-Ireland-winning captain Tomás Mulcahy, in an echo of Dónal óg Cusack's argument on 'The Sunday Game' on the night of the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Tipperary last August.
The timing of Cusack's stark observations at that macro level were questioned but they seem even more relevant now.
All of Cork's Munster Championship rivals have had big underage successes in recent years.
Five of Waterford's All-Ireland minor-winning team from two years ago featured on Sunday, Limerick have been to an All-Ireland minor semi-final and final in successive years with teams that have produced Cian Lynch for starters, Tipperary have the 2012 All-Ireland minor success to sustain them, while Clare can feast on three successive All-Ireland U-21 titles from 2012 to 2014.
Cork have nothing but a theory about mushrooms and hurlers which, to a degree, has carried some truth with the progress in Jimmy Barry-Murphy's first three years, culminating in that Munster victory.
He's made the most of the resources in that period but the impact of injuries and defections have stretched their shape too much in defence, forcing them into decisions like Ryan and Murphy because they had nowhere else to turn.
Mulcahy makes the relevant point that Blackrock, one of the triumvirate of traditionally strong Cork city clubs with four of the last six county minor titles and two of the last three U-21 titles to their credit, don't have a player on the current senior squad.
In the league final two teams from Duhallow, Millstreet and Kanturk, provided more players that St Finbarr's, Glen Rovers and Blackrock on the team that lost the league final.
Few, if any, cases for inclusion can be successfully prosecuted. What is there now is as good as what is available by any consensus.
They simply don't have the defensive structure or the players to implement that structure to win the really big games.
The loss of Lorcán McLoughlin and Christopher Joyce and even the departure of Conor O'Sullivan, who potentially had the qualities to play a sweeping role against Waterford, have really hit hard.
In contrast, Waterford have played nine games now, eight in the league and one championship, and only once has there been a change in starting defensive personnel, Austin Gleeson's injury for the Antrim league game keeping him out as Kevin Moran dropped back.
That stability and consistency of selection at the back with Shane Fives, Barry Coughlan, Noel Connors, Tadhg De Búrca, Gleeson and Philip Mahony forming such an impressive unit is in marked contrast to the chopping and changing forced on Cork. Where Waterford have had one full-back, Coughlan, Cork have had four in the same number of games.
The problems aren't all at one end of the field. Patrick Horgan is their most prolific scorer but from general play in the two games against Waterford and last year's Tipperary defeat he has scored just one point from play.
Cork can't have been helped by the switching of coaches over the last four seasons. Ger Cunningham spent the first two years in the role before departing, Kieran Kingston replaced him in 2014 and when Kingston couldn't commit because of work commitments Mark Landers was brought in this year.
Three men with different temperaments and different ideas working with the same group of players is bound to highlight contrast among the players, even if the presence of Barry-Murphy as manager has been constant.
Mulcahy feel they can recover, just as they did after the blow of losing Division 1A status two years ago.
"I think Jimmy needs to recover, number one, because he is rattled by what happened again yesterday.
"He's been hurt by the league final and the All-Ireland semi-final. He's got to find some way to drive it forward," Mulcahy stressed.
"But we're still there with a chance. We showed glimpses of being a very good team at times during the league. We can't dismiss that."