Tuesday 14 August 2018

Rebels the victims of a most unfair system

Jason O'Connor reflects on last Tuesday evening's Munster minor championship semi-final and what it means for Cork football

David Buckley of Cork is consoled by a supporter following the Electric Ireland Munster GAA Football Minor Championship semi-final match between Kerry and Cork at Austin Stack Park, in Tralee, Kerry. Photo by Eoin Noonan/Sportsfile
David Buckley of Cork is consoled by a supporter following the Electric Ireland Munster GAA Football Minor Championship semi-final match between Kerry and Cork at Austin Stack Park, in Tralee, Kerry. Photo by Eoin Noonan/Sportsfile

Once again we are here with a Cork minor football side finished in May for the third time in four years, but maybe more so than any other year of this controversial format it just does not feel right.

Not even the most biased Kerry fan would begrudge Cork staying in the competition whatever about losing to them based on what everyone saw in Austin Stack Park Tralee on Tuesday night, but the reality is it is only Kerry who will be the ones playing football until at least the end of July.

It was a reality Cork minor boss Robbie O'Dwyer said his side were well aware of in advance of throw-in.

"Yes it's a very tough way to lose but we all knew beforehand it would only be either ourselves or Kerry going through in the end. We wanted it to be us, but on the night it was Kerry unfortunately," O'Dwyer said initially about his side's loss.

Not making better use of the elements in the first period was a big factor in the Rebels defeat O'Dwyer agreed.

"We didn't make the most of the opportunities it brought and particularly didn't get the start we wanted in the first 10 or 15 minutes. We were happy we created better chances as the half went on, but not going in ahead at the break with the breeze was disappointing," the Cork minor manager said.

A solitary point in the period up to the three-quarter-mark was identified as another factor in the heart-breaking defeat.

"You need scores after half-time to settle things and we didn't get enough of them. Kerry got six in-a-row in that time although I thought we did brilliantly to come back within range of going level before our goal.

"Unfortunately we just didn't have the composure to see it out to at least extra-time. That composure is something you only get by being involved in the months of June and July when you play in Munster finals and All-Ireland minor quarter-finals," O'Dwyer believes.

The Macroom clubman didn't use the format specifically as an excuse, but agreed it was disappointing that the Minor Football Championship in the province has stayed the same when minor hurling has gone to a round robin mirroring the senior competition.

"It was the same for both Kerry and ourselves in having players with no previous experience of playing at this level and it would be great for both to advance further into the year but that's not the case ultimately," he said.

His work as a Bank Manager in Killarney sees him get to see Kerry's recent success at underage level at first-hand and it is very respectful of what they achieved since 2014.

"You can only have nothing but respect for it when we see both the standard and culture of the training and the work that goes in at schools level," O'Dwyer said of the set-up in the Kingdom.

When asked where he felt things might go from here, O'Dwyer felt the positives have to be taken by their players into club level initially.

"The one thing that they can hold their heads up on is a really good performance and hopefully they can go back to their clubs use what they have learned with us to their advantage.

"I think if we get back to having strong clubs in Cork it will help the inter-county set-up as well. Obviously the older fellas will hopefully go into an Under 20 set-up while the set-up we have here will stay the same for next year," he said.

What about the drop in age to Under 17 for minor, could O'Dwyer draw any conclusions on it from the first year?

"I still think it's too early to judge when you are dealing with players not as physically developed as 18 years old would be. There's a mental factor as well that's tougher for players just out of Under 16 level, but these are the rules for the moment and we just have to deal with it."

Whether they will contest the next provincial championship in a different guise only the 'powers that be' will decide.

Maybe more than the Munster Council itself maybe questions have to be asked of the other four counties in the province and ask them are they happy with this continuing when any team with genuine aspirations of making progress in football can fall victim to it in any given year.

Cork have been the biggest victims in only going beyond the Munster semi-final stage twice since their last Munster minor final appearance in 2011, that being the years of 2014 and 2016.

The wheel will turn eventually but whether it happens in 2019 and Cork end a nine year wait for provincial honours will only become apparent this time next year again.