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No reason for new-look Cork to be in awe of Dubs – Tompkins


Cork manager Brian Cuthbert speaks to his players as they huddle together before the game

Cork manager Brian Cuthbert speaks to his players as they huddle together before the game

Alan Quirke (left) of Cork in action against Emmet Bolton of Kildare

Alan Quirke (left) of Cork in action against Emmet Bolton of Kildare

Graham Canty (left) of Cork in action against Johnny Duane of Galway

Graham Canty (left) of Cork in action against Johnny Duane of Galway


Cork manager Brian Cuthbert speaks to his players as they huddle together before the game

It's a safe enough assumption to make that no other manager in recent times has inherited a football squad drained of so much experience and pivotal players.

Brian Cuthbert had only just been appointed as Cork football manager last October when a trickle of retirements soon became a torrent.

First Noel O'Leary, then Paudie Kissane, followed by Graham Canty and Alan Quirke, with Pearse O'Neill and Alan O'Connor also signing off in a couple of weeks of radical change.

When Tyrone lost their 2011 All-Ireland quarter-final to Dublin, there were five stalwarts gone by the time the new season kicked in the following February.

Mickey Harte had been Gaelic football's longest-serving manager for some time by then. Cuthbert was only in his post a matter of weeks when the number of the departed reached seven, with Ciaran Sheehan's decision, after the international rules series was over, to sign for AFL club Carlton.

One of Cuthbert's predecessors, Larry Tompkins, firmly believes, however, that the exodus could not have been more timely and is adamant that Cork won't be disrupted as much as people might imagine.

In Tompkins' estimation, only Sheehan, and to a lesser extent O'Connor, will really be missed.

"The team needed a lift and they needed younger players in there. A lot of guys that went you couldn't really go with them again," Tompkins said.

"Apart from Ciaran Sheehan, I don't see any other loss. Maybe Alan O'Connor, he's only 28... he's probably a guy that maybe would still have offered something. But I don't see anyone else as a significant loss."

Nor does Tompkins subscribe to the view that Cork need to be patient with their rebuilding project and he feels success for the team can happen much sooner than anyone thinks.

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The common perception of Cork is of a top-six team at best, still adrift of Dublin, Mayo, Kerry and even Donegal and Tyrone. The mass exodus last autumn only reinforces that view. But Tompkins sees it differently.

"There are a lot of good players that can come out of the woodwork and really express themselves this year, really nail themselves down as good footballers," he continued.

"You look at the standard and you say to yourself there isn't anyone you would really be afraid of.

"Even Dublin, you wouldn't be in awe of them. They play a nice brand of football, it's good to watch, but you just wouldn't be in awe of them. I don't think there is an air of invincibility about any team. I think Cork are capable of beating a lot of those teams.

"I'm always of the opinion that Cork always have good young players. It's similar to the hurlers. When you give guys an opportunity you just don't know what they can do, they can be anything. Who knows by September those names could be very prominent.

"There are certain teams that can do it. Brian Cuthbert has every right to think Cork can win an All-Ireland this year. You are dealing with Cork, you are not dealing with Wicklow or Leitrim.

"It's not a cockiness or anything like that. But Cork would be very foolish to think that they couldn't beat this Dublin team."

Cuthbert doesn't share Tompkins' view that the departure of so many established players will not take too much from the team's progress, but he, too, feels a sense among his squad that they don't really fear anyone.

"The fact that we have lost seven players who were stalwarts of Cork football over the last few years, well it's going to take a while to replace them, but there is a youthful enthusiasm about the group right now," said Cuthbert.

"A lot of them are used to beating teams growing up and have been very successful. I don't think they are in fear of any team.

"We don't know where we're going to end up, but we're on a bit of an adventure. I'd be very excited with the group that we have."

Cuthbert accepts that Cork have lost a bit of strength, but gained pace and that the game plan will be tailored around the players he has.

"The squad is built around three distinct groups now. There's the 2007 All-Ireland U-21 winning team, with Daniel Goulding, Michael Shields, Ken O'Halloran, Paul Kerrigan – those guys who are now 26, 27," he added.

"The 2009 team may not have produced as many recent Cork seniors, but our squad has introduced more of them now and we think they can do well, while last year's U-21s, who lost the All-Ireland final, are providing a third wave of players."

With Colm O'Neill due back soon and Paddy Kelly and Damian Cahalane likely to have completed rehabilitation from hip surgery by next month, Cutbert's squad will only strengthen further.

Tompkins is looking forward to a shift in style that will attract the Cork public, but acknowledges that defensive vulnerability may remain.

"The Cork public want to see the team play far more attractive football, going forward a bit more and taking a few chances rather than playing negatively," he said.

"Maybe they were trying to cover on fellas there who were feeling the pinch by putting a lot of bodies back in defensive areas.

"But Cork have had problems back in defence over the last couple of years.

"They were scoring enough up front, but conceding too much at the other end. That has been their Achilles heel and it has cost them."


Alan Quirke

A decent kick-out strategist, he won't have fond memories of the 2007 All-Ireland final against Kerry, but his 2012 Munster championship performance against their old rivals was superb.

Graham Canty

Cork's inspiring leader who captained them to the 2010 All-Ireland success was also the team's firefighter, adapting to whatever defensive task was required of him.

Paudie Kissane

Kissane made his championship debut for the Rebels back in 2002, but had to wait another six years to really establish himself. He always provided great attacking thrust.

Alan O'Connor

At 28, the youngest of the six players who retired, O'Connor provided physical presence in midfield, but with a more fluid game planned, his days may have been numbered.

Pearse O'Neill

Another Cork footballer who developed late and came on the scene only after his Aghada clubmate Conor Counihan took over as manager.

Noel O'Leary

A firm favourite with the fans, he was a fiery presence for the Rebels who marked Martin Clarke superbly during the 2010 All-Ireland final.

Ciaran Sheehan

Showed strong signs of recovering his best form during 2013 after a 2011 cruciate ligament tear, but took up the option of moving to AFL club Carlton in the prime of his career.

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