The 10 games that sealed Sean Og O hAilpin's Cork fate
Published 23/10/2010 | 05:00
DENIS Walsh might have thought it would pass off as closed season house-keeping when he freshened up the Cork panel by opening the back door to release some of the incumbent, while welcoming newcomers in through the front.
However, it was never going to be that simple once he informed such an iconic figure as Sean Og O hAilpin that he was not in his plans for 2011. O hAilpin never saw it coming, but, once he was informed of Walsh's decision, he moved quickly to spread the word far and wide that he had been dropped.
Using the GPA to issue a statement on his position, he made it clear that he wanted to continue with Cork and while that might be no longer an option, he would certainly play on with Na Piarsaigh. Commenting on his omission, he said that he "must respect the manager's decision in this regard." It was a polite way of saying: "he's made a massive cock-up."
Significantly, when it came to thanking time it was reserved for the Cork players with whom O hAilpin shared a dressing-room for 14 years, the Cork supporters and GAA supporters in general.
He made no reference to any of the managers who had presided over Cork since the mid-1990s. He would have a good relationship with several of them, but he could hardly single them out and omit Gerald McCarthy -- who was at the centre of the players' strike controversy early last year -- and Walsh, who is hardly O hAilpin's favourite Corkman right now.
Well certainly not without re-opening old wounds. Opinions remain sharply divided in Cork as to whether Walsh made the right decision. They split into three distinct camps: those who insist that O hAilpin still has much to offer, those who believe that he -- and some others of the old guard -- should be moved out and those who feel that he should have been retained on the panel, while giving younger alternatives a chance to prove themselves in the National League.
The latter view is based on the premise that while O hAilpin is no longer the powerhouse of his prime days, his experience would still be invaluable. Besides, it could emerge that he is still the best No 7 in Cork next year.
If that turns out to be the case, it would be much easier to promote him from the back benches rather than recall him to a panel from which he had been omitted several months before. Walsh will know from the reaction this week that he has made what could turn out to a defining moment in his managerial career.
If Cork prosper without O hAilpin, he will be vindicated, but, if they struggle, he faces a difficult 2011 as his decision comes under repeated scrutiny, most of which will be critical.
So, why did Walsh make such a big call? One suspects it was arrived at on the basis that O hAilpin had slipped from the great heights he once occupied and that his decline would become even more pronounced next year.
In particular, Walsh would have referenced two crucial games this year, both of which went badly for O hAilpin. He struggled against Galway in the League final and against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final and while he wasn't the only Cork player in trouble in those games, Walsh obviously believed that they were sufficiently significant to persuade him that O hAilpin's big-time form tank had sprung an irreparable leak.
Granted, he did well in the Munster quarter-final, but Tipperary were so poor that day that Walsh himself -- whose inter-county career ended in the mid-90s -- would probably have thrived.
Ultimately, it probably came down to Walsh's assessment of the heights O hAilpin could reach in 2011 and he reached a decision that based on his performances against Galway and Kilkenny this year, they weren't going to be anywhere near high enough to help turn Cork into serious All-Ireland contenders.
Whether there's a better replacement remains to be seen, but clearly Walsh is prepared to take his chances.