Saturday 14 December 2019

Eoin Liston: Brian Cuthbert's sweeping changes show lack of faith in Rebels

Cork manager Brian Cuthbert. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Cork manager Brian Cuthbert. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Eoin Liston

It's well known in GAA circles that Cork footballers aren't loved. I hear you saying, "That's typical from a Kerry man", but I'm not talking about the Rebels' rivals; it's their own supporters.

The fact is Cork people are hurling followers by and large and the footballers come a distant second in many people's eyes.

Realistically, most Cork people will look at tonight's game with Sligo and just hope their dual players come through unharmed. I've actually spent a couple of days in Cork this past week and I've been talking to some old friends.

The common message is the shock about the lack of passion during their Munster final collapse. "Where was the pride?" one ex-player asked. Some three weeks after the game and they were still genuinely dumbfounded.

I, myself, felt Cork were deserved favourites ahead of that day. What they did to us in Tralee during the league could not be ignored. That day was a haunting experience for Kerry players and supporters.

TIRELESSLY

But the difference is Eamonn Fitzmaurice worked tirelessly on ensuring a defeat like that wouldn't be happening again.

No way were Cork going to stroll through the Kerry defence come championship time. Since the Munster final, there have been accusations of complacency in Cork. Some feel the players bought into their own hype. However, there was absolutely no reason for them to get ahead of themselves.

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Sure, they topped Division 1, but they collapsed in the final when Dublin turned up the heat. If losing a 10-point lead wasn't a wake-up call, then surely scraping by Tipperary in the Munster semi-final set alarm bells ringing.

Were they naive enough to think that they could just turn up against Kerry, play lovely, open football and not have to worry about the defence? Declan O'Sullivan was allowed to do what he wanted and his direct man neither marked him nor protected his full-back line.

It was crazy stuff given how basic the mistake was. It's no secret that Declan was going to come deep and look for the ball and dictate play.

I am a big fan of Brian Cuthbert, but now his real job has started. Was the seemingly united squad we saw for most of the league living in a false harmony?

There must be major upheaval in that dressing-room at the moment. Six changes to a team is massive and it must also be considered that six integral members of last season's squad have also left.

Are Cork really strong enough to replace 12 footballers in nine months, most of whom were deemed good enough to start championship action?

I would also question the changes made for this evening's game. Fintan Goold had a fine league and looked like pushing on in midfield and solving the problem there. One bad game and he's out. Daniel Goulding, a proven top-level operator and brilliant free-taker, is another to get chopped.

Colm O'Neill is rightly brought back in, but why on earth was he not starting in the first place? Paddy Kelly was tried at centre-back, returned to the forwards and now he's dropped too.

One of the reasons Cuthbert has been so successful at underage level is that he empowers his players to make decisions on the field. When it goes right, it creates a huge surge in belief, but when it goes wrong, the manager must make a change in approach.

There's nothing wrong, for example, with putting an arm around an individual who may need a soft approach. There was always going to be changes, but I never envisaged that over a third of the team would be different.

I feel Brian has not showed enough faith in the players. He could have allowed them their shot at redemption.

Cork must lay down a serious marker today. I'm in no doubt about the quality of footballer available to them, but, mentally, and from a management point of view, there have been failings.

A scrappy one-point win or a poor performance will do nothing for them. Sligo are miles off the team they were a few years ago and aren't near the top tier in either quality or development. Cork need a powerful 70 minutes to convince everyone of their worth.

Maybe then they can get some love from their supporters and move in the right direction from the crossroads at which they've arrived.

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