Wednesday 16 October 2019

Colm Keys: 'Rebels lay foundations for longterm recovery'

Breaking ball

Donal Óg Cusack and Diarmuid O’Sullivan (far right) at a press conference during Cork hurlers’ strike in 2009 – Cusack is now the county’s minor manager while O’Sullivan is back a senior selector. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Donal Óg Cusack and Diarmuid O’Sullivan (far right) at a press conference during Cork hurlers’ strike in 2009 – Cusack is now the county’s minor manager while O’Sullivan is back a senior selector. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Another week, another press release from Cork County Board revealing restructuring and reform around their inter-county teams and apparatus.

In May, as part of the overhaul of football structures, Conor Counihan was appointed project co-ordinator for three years with a view to implementing the five-year plan the county unveiled earlier in the year.

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In August, another part of the jigsaw was put in place when Aidan O'Connell was appointed the county's first high performance manager, a role that will oversee player development in hurling and football.

Earlier this month, Cian O'Neill, fresh from four years with his native Kildare, was added to Ronan McCarthy's Cork management team as coach, while Kevin Smith was appointed head of strength and conditioning, bringing his experience of working with Stade Francais rugby with him.

With vacancies at minor, U-20 and senior level, the board took their time in seeking to join the dots and create what looks like a succession pathway for management teams and players alike over the next few years.


Kieran Kingston's return as senior hurling boss was in the pipeline for a number of weeks now ever since John Meyler's departure and with Diarmuid O'Sullivan rejoining them and Ger Cunningham also coming on board it gives the senior team, on the face of it, a shiny veneer.

Kingston and Cunningham worked together previously when Jimmy Barry-Murphy was manager in the earlier part of the decade, while Kingston was well respected during his most recent spell in charge, 2016 and 2017, when, in the second of those years, the introduction of five U-21 players brought new impetus to Cork hurling.

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Below that it gets even more interesting. Pat Ryan looked set for the Waterford senior job last year after Derek McGrath's departure, having been appointed as Cork coach in 2017, Kingston's last year in charge.

He is a potential senior candidate in his own right but his involvement with the U-20s now, where he will have Donal O'Mahony assisting, may prepare him for that role in the future.

At minor level, Barry-Murphy's expected return did not materialise but the emergence of Dónal Óg Cusack as manager reflects the pace of change and change of approach that the board, under chair Tracey Kennedy and new chief executive Kevin O'Donovan, has been operating at.

Not everyone in the county will be pleased by that appointment, given some of his blunt and ultimately divisive commentary in recent years but there is a sense that the new leadership are keen for the county to get the best of itself, irrespective of past issues. With Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and Tom Kenny, who was with the seniors for a spell this year, joining him, the noughties' Cork team could have a strong hand in shaping the county's hurling future. Although their coaching credentials have yet to be tested at this level, it could be an investment worth making.

These appointments come at the end of a decade where they failed to win an All-Ireland senior hurling title, the first time that has happened. Having started the same decade as All-Ireland champions in football, the county will find itself in Division 3 next year.

But the signs of football uprising are positive with All-Ireland U-20 and minor titles supplemented the championship progress made this summer.

There is a sense that Cork GAA is readying itself for a strong next decade on both the hurling and football fields with the raft of appointments to support the ongoing planning and vision for its players and teams. With its population, tradition and network of clubs, the potential to take off like a rocket has always been there.

Páirc Uí Chaoimh may yet throw up different problems but the Cork GAA ship appears to have anchored itself after a few years of listing.

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