Wednesday 11 December 2019

Rebel relief gives top brass a boost

Counihan call eases fears over manager 'burn-out'

Conor Counihan will lead Cork's defence of their NFL and Championship titles.
Conor Counihan will lead Cork's defence of their NFL and Championship titles.

CONOR Counihan's announcement that he is to continue in charge of the Cork footballers will be greeted with relief in Croke Park, where there are growing concerns over the direction team management is taking.

Counihan waited more than five weeks since presiding over Cork's All-Ireland success to commit himself for another two years, explaining that there were so many considerations to be taken into account that he needed time and space to reflect on them.

His deliberations were on-going even as Tipperary hurling manager Liam Sheedy resigned, creating the possibility that for the first time in GAA history both of the All-Ireland senior champions would be seeking replacements just weeks after the big triumphs.

And since both Sheedy and Counihan were both home-grown coaches, as opposed to imports, it would raise questions as to where exactly team management was headed on an increasingly demanding inter-county landscape.


It would certainly represent a seismic shift in approach if both All-Ireland-winning managers stood down after finally making the breakthrough.

Sheedy cited work and family commitments for quitting Tipperary after three years, issues which also left Counihan with some soul-searching before agreeing to return for a fourth successive year.

"I'm not one to rush into things. I didn't rush when I was coming into the job and I wasn't going to rush now. There were a lot of things to be considered and having worked through them, I'm happy to stay on. I know the level of commitment that's involved but I'm prepared to take it on," he said.

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The Cork County Board had given Counihan a full endorsement last week when they appointed him for a further two years, pending his agreement. Peadar Healy, Terry O'Neill, Ger O'Sullivan and Jim Nolan will continue as selectors.

Had Counihan departed it would have been a serious setback for Cork at a time when they have their most successful squad for 20 years. They have lost only seven of 41 league and championship games under Counihan since the start of the 2008 season and, with so much talent in the county, the future looks extremely bright.

With the exception of Alan Quirke (34), John Miskella (32), Graham Canty (30), Paudie Kissane (30), Pearse O'Neill (31), Derek Kavanagh (30) and Nicholas Murphy (32), the squad is quite young, with a steady stream of talent coming through from U-21 teams, which have won five of the last seven Munster titles. That's in contrast to great rivals Kerry, who have won only one of the last nine U-21 provincial titles.

Cork full-backs Eoin Cadogan, Michael Shields and Ray Carey are all only 24-years-old; midfielder Aidan Walsh won't be 20 until next January, while Ciaran Sheehan (19), Patrick Kelly (25), Daniel Goulding (24) and Paul Kerrigan (24) were all on the starting list of attackers in the All-Ireland final. The subs' bench is also heavily weighted towards young talent.

Retaining Counihan -- who has done an excellent job since replacing Teddy Holland, whom the Cork players refused to play under after he was appointed during their strike three years ago -- was a top priority for the county board, while Croke Park were also keeping a watching brief on developments.

Losing both Sheedy and Counihan in the one year would have sent out a worrying signal that team management was becoming so demanding that even All-Ireland winners felt the urge to escape, especially those who were in charge of their native counties.

Having agreed to remain, Counihan is now facing the challenge of leading Cork into the defence of the All-Ireland and NFL Division 1 title next year. They are already installed as 5/2 favourites to win the All-Ireland double for the first time since 1989-90, a rating which Counihan will totally ignore.

"We had a number of very close calls this year, some of which we won and one of which we lost (versus Kerry in the Munster semi-final replay). We were on the right side against Limerick, Dublin and Down but we know how tight the margins were," he said.

"There's always a tendency to look at the All-Ireland champions and assume they'll be the form team again next year but it doesn't always work out that way. We're enjoying being All-Ireland champions but we know well that once we get back into action next year everyone will be gunning for us. There are a lot of good teams and any of them can beat the other on a given day."

However, the fact that Counihan will again be in charge is a major plus for Cork as it retains continuity.

All-Ireland SFC betting 2011 -- Cork 5/2; Kerry 3/1; Dublin 6/1; Tyrone 7/1; Meath 14/1; Down 18/1; Kildare, Monaghan, Galway 20/1; Mayo 22/1; Armagh 28/1; Derry 33/1; Sligo, Limerick 50/1; Donegal 66/1; Laois, Louth, Wexford 80/1; Westmeath 100/1; Cavan 125/1; Antrim 150/1; Roscommon, Fermanagh, Offaly 200/1; Wicklow 250/1; Waterford, Longford 300/1; Tipperary 400/1; Leitrim 500/1; Clare 750/1; Carlow, New York, London 1,000/1.

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