Sunday 23 July 2017

Right or wrong, Walsh alone had to make the call

Cork's manager has taken a gamble by axing a proven winner, says Jamesie O'Connor

A telling image emerged after this year's All-Ireland final. It was that of Ned Quinn and Brian Cody standing together.

Quinn is the secretary of the Kilkenny County Board and probably the behind-the-scenes architect of many of the reasons why Kilkenny have been so successful over the last decade.

It was telling that he was shoulder to shoulder with Cody on the field after the game. It's one of the reasons why Kilkenny are where they are -- everything in the county from top to bottom is geared towards the success of Kilkenny hurling.

You certainly couldn't say that the same thing has existed in Cork over the last seven or eight years, particularly since John Allen stepped down as manager in 2006.

The current Cork manager, Denis Walsh, came into the position under difficult circumstances. The team performed creditably in his first year but after the great win over Tipperary in the first championship game of the season, Cork didn't appear to progress and ultimately there was no silverware.

It's a measure of where this Cork team's graph is at the moment that winning the Munster championship would have marked a successful season for them -- remember this is a team with multiple All-Ireland winners on board.

More than anything else the desperately disappointing capitulation to Kilkenny probably shocked the Cork hurling public given the sheer gulf that separated the sides. And in that sense the jury on Denis Walsh still remains out.

There is no question that Cork need to rebuild and that process has to begin this coming year. Young players will have to be blooded and Division 1 in the league provides the perfect opportunity for the manager to experiment and see what talent is available within the county.

Nevertheless, I was surprised that the Cork backroom team chose to dispense with the services of Seán óg ó hAilpín. Apparently, from the statement he released, it's evident that the fires still burn in him and that his appetite remains undiminished. And if that is the case then he surely has something to offer Cork next season.

Younger players invariably look for guidance, advice and wisdom when they come into the inter-county scene. And in terms of the way ó hAilpín trains and the example he sets by the way he lives his life, plus the experience he has acquired over a career at senior inter-county level which stretches back to 1996, having him on the panel would surely have been beneficial. He definitely still has something to offer Cork hurling.

I'm surprised that Denis Walsh (pictured) didn't convey to him that he would have to blood players and that he might not get much game time in the earlier parts of the season. But if his form, fitness and appetite in training were good, and provided he was hurling well enough, then he would still be in the frame come championship time.

For older players, knowing when to go is always difficult. The injuries usually start to occur and it takes longer to recover. In addition to this, financial and family commitments take effect. I knew when my time was up and was quite happy that I made the right decision to retire when I did.

There is no question that Seán óg, in the last couple of seasons, hasn't been the player he was when at the peak of his powers, but he would still have preferred to have gone on his own terms. One could say that his service to Cork hurling earned him that right.

The question remains as to whether Denis Walsh has made the right call. He will feel that he has and I'm sure that a lot of people in Cork will agree with him. (Seán óg wasn't always loved among his own people, despite what he achieved in the red jersey.) And as manager the onus of making decisions such as this falls on Walsh's shoulders.

Whether it was the right call or not, time will tell.

Sunday Independent

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