'Inferiority complex gets you nowhere' - Tompkins
Former Rebel captain and manager dismayed by footballers' sharp decline
Larry Tompkins expects some old friends from Meath to drop into his pub in Cork either before or after their trip Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday.
They will talk about the latest instalment of the Cork v Meath rivalry, but there will be time for nostalgia too as they reflect on the period between 1987 and 1990 when the counties dominated the football landscape, winning all four All-Irelands and three leagues between them.
It's a different world for both now, with Meath in their 13th season in Division 2 and Cork needing a quick upswing to avoid dropping into Division 3. Meath lead Division 2, while Cork are in last place, but with only three points separating top from bottom, everything is still to play for.
For now at least, Cork's need is the greater after taking only one point from a possible six. It's part of a much longer malaise, during which they have won only eight of their last 25 NFL games while making no impression in the championship either.
Tompkins, who together with fellow Kildare man Shea Fahy did so much to change the mindset in Cork when they moved south in 1987, is dismayed by the sharp decline.
He doesn't sugar-coat his analysis of the reasons, which include a growing inferiority complex among players, an unwillingness to 'die for the cause' on match day and a mental softness.
Add in structural defects within the county, some questionable managerial appointments and it adds up to a sense that Cork football is lost.
"There are enough good footballers in Cork to be really competitive. Maybe not winning All-Irelands, but up there with the likes of Galway and Kildare who made the 'Super 8s' last year. Are the best players playing for Cork? Not all of them.
"Some have slipped through the net, others opted out because they were disillusioned and then you have a lad like Mark Keane, who's playing AFL with Collingwood. You can't stop players going to Australia but was any attempt made to keep him at home? I'd regard him as one of the finest prospects to come out of Cork for years and he's gone now," said Tompkins.
Aidan Walsh is playing with the hurlers, having obviously decided that they had more to offer than the footballers, who haven't beaten a Division 1 team in the championship since 2012.
"He was an All-Star midfielder as a 19-year-old when Cork won the All-Ireland in 2010 so what happened? He should be a driving force with the footballers but instead he's playing hurling. Why did his confidence get hit so badly over the years? And how many others did the same thing happen to?" said Tompkins.
He traces the start of the decline back to 2011, the year after Cork won the All-Ireland title for the first time since he captained them to success in 1990 "They went down to Killarney for the Munster final as All-Ireland champions. Cork hadn't won there since 1995 so here was a great chance to put down a marker like the team I played with did in the late 1980s," he reflected.
"Cork paid far too much respect to Kerry over the years but our team broke that. It came back but the 2010 team had a chance to break it again but what did they do? They genuflected to Kerry. And when you do that against Kerry they'll destroy you. Cork teams have been doing the same ever since. They were unlucky not to beat Mayo in the 2017 qualifiers and two months later Mayo nearly beat Dublin in the All-Ireland final.
"Cork people thought the qualifier game would be the start of something but it was awful again last year when a hand wasn't laid on Kerry or Tyrone. They were shameful performances. I just can't understand that mentality, why players don't believe in themselves a bit more.
"That has to come from within a player himself. Cork hurlers aren't like that. Even when they aren't going particularly well, they always believe they can win. They're a different breed."
Tompkins is no great fan of the recently-published five-year plan for Cork football, not because it doesn't have some good ideas but because it might be used as a cop-out.
"Five-year plans are all very well but what about the one-year plan? What about next Saturday against Meath? What about the championship? The performances just haven't been good enough for a long time.
"Are players prepared to put football at the top of their lists? Anyone can train three, four or five nights a week and still have the wrong attitude. Are they prepared to put their lives on hold for the cause - that's the big test," he said.
He believes that not appointing John Cleary as senior manger at some stage over the past six years was a serious mistake. "John had done good work with U-21 teams - he knew them well and they knew him, so he was a natural fit. On top of that, he is a very knowledgeable football man. Everything should have been done to get him into the senior job but it didn't happen," said Tompkins.
Despite the apathy that hangs over the Cork scene, Tompkins is convinced that there's enough talent in the county to build a squad capable of delivering much better results.
"Look, they could beat Meath on Saturday and if they do, they are right back in the mix in Division 2. But if they don't, they will be in serious relegation trouble as they still have to play Tipperary, Donegal and Armagh, two of them away.
"There's no easy way out of the hole. But it has to start with hard work and belief in yourself. An inferiority complex will get you nowhere," added Tompkins, who managed Cork from 1997 to 2003.