Sunday 17 December 2017

Cork on the cusp

SO much for conventional wisdom.

Cork, you know the team in transition, the team who were going to struggle in this year's National League, shorn of the services of so many experienced players, hampered by the defection of Ciarán Sheehan to the AFL?

Yeah that Cork, well they're top of the table. Two wins from two, a healthy points difference of plus nine, a fresh approach, a new manager, younger players staking their claim, absorbing the loss of two stalwarts to the hurlers for the Kildare game and still going out on top... that's a Cork team to make you sit up and take notice.

A new full-back in Conor Dorman. A new wing-back in Brian O'Driscoll. Ruairí Deane stepping up from the juniors. Mark Collins, Brian Hurley and Donal Óg Hodnett coming to the fore. This transition business isn't so bad after all.

Of course, we could just be falling into the same trap all over again. A month ago our view of where Cork were headed wasn't nearly as bright. Just as that was proven wrong so too could this burst of enthusiasm prove to be very much misplaced.

They might not win another game. They might yet be relegated... you're not buying it? Same here. Another win should secure their survival in the division. It might not come this weekend away to the Dubs in Croke Park, but it will come.

At this juncture Cork look to be in at least as good a position to challenge as they did this time last year. To be honest about it they're probably in an even better position. Cork under Conor Counihan had gone stale.

The Joe Brolly criticism of Counihan's Cork – that they were primitive, that they resembled a rugby league outfit – was certainly over the top, but there was something predictable about Cork over the last couple of years. The hard-running, the power, the lack of finesse.

The lack of finesse was particuarly hard to comprehend. Cork had and have some exceptionally talented footballers, they were just never let off the leash. Ciarán Sheehan wasn't, in our view, utilised to the extent he could or should have been. He had good days, some very good days, yet he never exploded to life and lit up a summer in the way his talent ought to have done.

This could all be read as a criticism of Conor Counihan and, strictly speaking, it is and yet when his tenure is soberly assessed in the years to come it'll be rightly viewed in a positive light. He was the man who put the past behind Cork, who healed wounds and got everybody singing off the same hymn-sheet. He is the man who won Cork their first All Ireland title in a generation.

And to paraphrase a line from Macbeth, nothing in his tenure as Cork boss became him quite like the leaving of it. A lesser manager might have sought to stay on, hoping for better the following season. Not Counihan, he recognised he brought Cork football as far as he could. No shame in that and a great deal of dignity in accepting it.

Counihan bequeathed his successor a culture of achievement (an All Ireland, three league titles in succession) and most importantly unity of purpose. Harnessed correctly Brian Cuthbert (left) might just create something special down by the banks.


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