Tuesday 21 August 2018

'The Super Eights sounds great'

Diarmuid Sheehan took the views of new Cork boss Ronan McCarthy at the launch of the Munster championships recently

Cork Manager Ronan McCarthy. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Cork Manager Ronan McCarthy. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Now that most of the clubs have got their Round 1 clashes out of the way during the experimental April break all eyes are turning to the big boys and girls on the inter-county scene.

Cork's hurlers will be first to cross the whitewash as they prepare to take on Clare at Pairc Uí Rinn in a matter of just over a week now however here we find out just what is going on in the head of the man tasked with bringing some of the glory days back to Ireland's largest county's footballers as Cork prepare for what is widely regarded as a seminal moment for the game locally.

Stating the obvious like Cork are up against it is far from helpful at this juncture, but to the players and the management team that will carry the hopes and prayers of the faithful with them onto the pitch there will be little doubting that 2018 needs to be a year where progress was seen.

Cork has been in the doldrums for far too long now and everyone, including new boss Ronan McCarthy, is well aware that this has to change. Cork need to show signs that there is a twist in this road and that something of an upward curve is close at hand.

For most people involved in the inter-county bubble the dwindling attendances will be the most obvious sign that people aren't happy with some paltry numbers of paying customers turning out to support a county that lifted Sam Maguire as recently as 2010.

So where to from now? Well McCarthy is the man with the baton and it will be up to him and his team to steady the ship - particularly after a league campaign that had some highs but overall failed to deliver in any meaningful way.

"Look I started with a realistic ambition to get promoted from Division 2 and we didn't achieve that.

"The Super Eights sounds great. Three really good games, one at home, one away and one in Croke Park, playing regularly in the middle of the summer, it's everything you'd want to be involved in," but that is all a bit away yet and McCarthy has more immediate things on his mind - most notably his fellow Munster competitors.

Super Eights or Munster? Well, obviously, both, but again McCarthy is playing it safe.

"The standard answer is the right one here and the other is too far ahead for us to think about. We can only have one focus and that's the Waterford or Tipp game on Saturday the 26th. If you win that game it opens up avenues but there's a danger about looking too far ahead."

Being manager of a senior inter-county team in Cork, or any other county for that matter brings with it an expectation from all quarters that you will have an opinion on most things around the game and unfortunately for McCarthy that level of scrutiny is as strong in Cork as it is anywhere.

Issues as diverse as the unfairness of the provincial set-up offering teams in some provinces (Ulster for example) extra games to the highly contentious topic of fundraising for Cork teams can be thrown at a Cork manager with the expectation that he will be interested and expert on what he is being asked - McCarthy doesn't disappoint however and is happy to give his opinion when asked.

So is their an unfairness between the way the different provincial competitions run with extra games for Ulster sides?

"You can't argue with that statement and also a Leinster team could have to win another game again. It's something outside of our remit. It's a fair point though and very hard to argue with."

As regards recent fundraising initiatives, namely the Cork Senior Football Fund?

"It's a welcome addition to the funding that's there but I don't think it's badly needed. It's supplementary.

"I was selector under Conor Counihan and Brian [Cuthbert] for two years and while I'm only the manager for six months I'm not aware of at any stage us not getting something that was needed. We've never failed to get what we've asked for from the board.

"This adds to it but I always think it's important that money is used properly and creatively and there's value for money. If you've €20,000 for example it must be used to add to what the players' needs and so they perform better. People are great at spending money for the sake of it.

"It [success] is about the quality of the work you do three times a week or whatever you do over the course of six months. Everything else if just additional to the message you're trying to get across on the training field. That's your bread and butter.

"Cork spend a good bit. It's about good management of resources. We live in a society where people think if you throw money at something you solve a problem but you have to be astute. This CSF [Cork Senior Football Fund] is a welcome help."

Speculation about whether the club only month in April was a success nationally or not was quickly put to bed by McCarthy who felt his side really did want, need and deserve the time off.

"The club-only month. The timing was great for us, in that the football was played in the earlier part of the month and the hurling later. We had nine games in 12 weeks between the McGrath Cup and the league and whatever about a physical break the group needed a mental break from each other.

"Apart from the lads playing club hurling they had 18 days back with the clubs. We've a good run-in. No one can complain these days. We've five weeks before the semi-final and before it might have been only two weeks.

"We sent the players back with a clear message to perform well for their clubs. If your form is good you've to keep it going because you never know when you'll have a downturn.

"It's also a case that every time you go out and perform as an inter-county player there's an expectation to reach a certain level. We were looking for them to perform well for their clubs and we were watching."

McCarthy's appointment to the Cork job came a little quicker than many people had expected after Peadar Healy's resignation, however, McCarthy believed that the quick announcement was a positive for him and his backroom team.

"It helped because it allowed myself and the management to go out and watch when the club championships were in full flow. We got things up and running and that was reasonably seamless. There was no uncertainty."

Since Cork's surprising performance against Mayo in 2017 which saw the Lee-siders come close to the major scalp there has been plenty that feel this Cork team are at their best when their backs are to the wall and they are free to go for it but McCarthy is clear that one game doesn't define any team and his men have more to offer than just a good 70 minutes.

"A lot of the commentary is extreme. There are a lot of top players in Cork so people shouldn't have been surprised by that performance [against Mayo]. Mayo, if they have four big games every year, they can perform like that in three and a half or three and three-quarters of them.

"That's an element we have to try and bring, the consistency. The ups and downs have hampered us over the last number of years. There is no quick fix to all that. A lot of people are hanging their hat on the Mayo game and they won't be talking about it if we fail to quality for the Super Eights."

Speculation about handing out a three-year term to the Cork manager and what the county should be building towards was quickly brushed aside by the head tactician as he pointed out that 2018 might be the year instead of 2020.

"People ask about a three-year term and building the team for the future - we've an opportunity this year. Let's see what we do this year first because this could be our best opportunity. Let's do the best we can and focus immediately on the Munster semi-final and take it from there."

Cork senior football looks to be in safe hands with McCarthy at the helm. A man that tries to say it as he sees it without the use of hyperbole or clichés is always going to go down well with the fans and the press, but it is on the field where this particular manager is going to have his reign judged and that may well be the place where his impact is diluted the most.

Only time will tell.