Tuesday 23 October 2018

'Cork are not ambitious enough, we need to stop making excuses’

Rebels are miles ahead in the numbers game but still lagging behind when it comes to consistency, writes Michael Verney

People don’t know what to expect from Cork, says Ben O’Connor. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
People don’t know what to expect from Cork, says Ben O’Connor. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Much has been said and written about splitting Dublin into smaller sections due to the success of their all-conquering footballers, with director-general Páraic Duffy even feeling it worthy of comment in his annual report earlier this week.

Silverware often leads to overreaction as winners set the template for others to follow, but colder analysis should see counties look at their own resources and outline the best course of action to maximise what they have available.

For many counties, being disadvantaged in terms of playing numbers is part and parcel with the struggle but given the sheer size and breadth of Cork - with more than 260 GAA clubs - that is no such problem. It does raise serious debate about their performances in both codes in recent years, however, and with football boss Peadar Healy and his hurling counterpart Kieran Kingston both stepping down after championship exits last season, it leaves more questions than answers about what the future holds.

"I suppose people still don't know what to really expect," Cork's three-time All-Ireland SHC winner Ben O'Connor says of Kingston's shock departure.

"They're just wondering why did all of last year's management team pull out, that's the question mark hanging over them.

"People are wondering, 'do they not think there's more in these fellas or what's the story?' No story has come out about it, no one seems to have an answer to know why they went. It was all mentioned as personal reasons so it's a funny one."

After an "all-time low" in 2016, the hurlers came from relative obscurity to claim Munster honours last season before being well in the hunt for an All-Ireland final place when Damien Cahalane's sending off opened the flood gates against Waterford.

The footballers were a different case altogether and had it not been for the guiding hand of the ageless Donncha O'Connor, they would have been looking at a seismic Munster quarter-final loss to the Déise after looking totally devoid of confidence.

The Rebels coughed and spluttered their way past Tipperary before being totally outclassed against Kerry while the Jekyll and Hyde-like displays were perfectly typified by their stellar qualifier showing against Mayo when they should have put away the Connacht side. As encouraging as it was, frustration at the lack of consistency was the overriding emotion. That was something summed up by former senior footballer John Fintan Daly, who has coached Cork at nearly every level and has been at the coalface of football for over 20 years.

After guiding Cork side Knocknagree - who earlier ended a deplorable run of 20 consecutive losses by Cork opposition to Kerry sides at intermediate and junior level in the Munster final - to the All-Ireland JFC club final last weekend, he issued a rallying cry for a drastic change of fortunes for the county team.

"I've coached in Kerry and I know the way they think and they're right, they do believe they're the best. It's second nature growing up in Kerry to expect to play in Croke Park, be it with your county or your club. In Cork, that's not the case, " Daly says.

"We're the biggest county in Ireland. We have over 260 clubs, we've the greatest number of players, the greatest amount of resources and yet our success is quite pathetic. Our mentality in Cork is not as good as it should be and this is not meant as a criticism, it's just a fact. We're not ambitious enough and we need to finally stop making excuses for ourselves."

All-Ireland triumph eight years ago seems like a lifetime away but Daly insists its symbolic of "what Cork teams tend to do. They come along and win an All-Ireland here and there and then that team breaks up and they disappear".

New football boss Ronan McCarthy faces a stiff task - starting tonight in Division 2 against Tipperary (5.0) - to restore the Rebels but Daly feels a turnaround is possible if their mentality changes.

"Our expectations and ambition has been poor and as a result, our performances have been poor. If the Super 8s had been played last year we wouldn't have been in it," he adds.

"Cork should be in the Super 8s every year without question because of the resources we have. I'm a passionate Cork man but I'm not happy with how conservative we are and that we're accepting of second best."

On the hurling side, O'Connor labels tonight's visit of Kilkenny to Páirc Uí Chaoimh (7.0) as a "huge" clash for new hurling manager John Meyler and he expects teams to have their homework done on the likes of Colm Spillane, Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon.

Echoing the earlier sentiments made by Daly, the 2005 All-Ireland-winning captain hopes to see Cork shed their "nice tag" and impose themselves on the opposition.

"Fellas were dishing it out to them for long enough so they decided they were going to give a bit back last year," he says.

"For a good few years they were saying that 'Cork are nice, nice fellas, nice hurlers'. Nice fellas don't win anything, you have to have a bit of a roguish streak in you. You have to be able to look after yourself when needs be.

"Some of the Cork fellas might have thought that hurling alone would get you out of it but you don't get to the top without standing on top of some other fella and knocking him down."

New year. New Cork? Only time will tell.

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