Sunday 21 October 2018

Rebels need evolution rather than revolution to build on the solid foundations left by Kingston

Since the decision of Kieran Kingston (p) to step away late last month, Cork chiefs have weighed up a crucial appointment in terms of the development of the county's exciting senior side. Photo: Sportsfile
Since the decision of Kieran Kingston (p) to step away late last month, Cork chiefs have weighed up a crucial appointment in terms of the development of the county's exciting senior side. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

When Dublin opted to give Pat Gilroy the job as the county's hurling manager, it was an admission of sorts that things needed significant change.

With his limited hurling background, Gilroy was a left-field choice but it made sense for Dublin.

Meyler (p) previously served as a selector Photo: Sportsfile
Meyler (p) previously served as a selector Photo: Sportsfile

After a few unhappy seasons under Ger Cunningham, the panel needed to be reinvigorated.

It was an unconventional move but it was decided that Gilroy was the man to pull all the strands back together and get all of the best available hurlers back playing for the county side.

Like Dublin, Cork have had a change at the top. However, they are coming from a very different position to the Dubs.

In stark contrast to just 12 months ago, Cork hurling is in a good place now.

The 2016 campaign yielded just two wins in nine competitive games across league and championship and featured a disastrous flirtation with a sweeper system when they were hammered by Tipperary in the Munster championship.

Their summer ended with a first championship defeat to Wexford in 60 years in the qualifiers.

Kingston managed to turn that form on its head. Exactly a year to the day from that loss to Wexford, he had steered the county to a Munster title.

They were beaten down the home straight in the All-Ireland semi-final at Waterford but the year as a whole hinted at good times ahead.

The underage system looks to be working well, too. The county's U-17s won the All-Ireland title while the minor side only went down to Galway in the decider.

The U-21 team went down fighting to a fancied Limerick in a Munster final without some of their front-line players. Limerick would go on to justify the talk around their side by winning the All-Ireland title.

Since the decision of Kieran Kingston to step away late last month, Cork chiefs have weighed up a crucial appointment in terms of the development of the county's exciting senior side. And the new man will be expected to hit the ground running.

In some ways, the committee charged with finding Kingston's successor had their task made easier when some of the leading contenders dropped out of the running.

Diarmuid 'The Rock' O'Sullivan, a selector under Kingston, quickly ruled himself out of contention.

Pat Ryan, who acted as coach under the former manager in 2017, did likewise, stating he wasn't in a position to give the time the job required.

Another member of the back-room team, Pat Hartnett, walked away before Kingston stepped down, leaving John Meyler as the obvious choice if the Rebels were looking for continuity.

Meyler was the early favourite to take over the role and, if appointed, it would mark the end of a long road for him.

Meyler previously served as a selector at the turn of the millennium and was embroiled in the dispute that led to the first strike that rocked Cork GAA. Originally from Wexford, he's part of the furniture on Leeside now, having been on the Rebels panel that won Liam MacCarthy in 1986 while also winning several championship medals with St Finbarr's in hurling and football.

His knowledge of the club scene in Cork is strong too, having taken charge of a number of sides, most notably leading Ballinhassig and Courcey Rovers to championship successes. He has also been involved with various Cork development squads.

Meyler also has experience of being in the hot seat. He's had spells in charge of Carlow and Kerry and also had a stint in charge of Wexford.

That ended acrimoniously with the Wexford players of the time moving for change but he did lead the county to a notable win over Tipperary in the championship during his time in charge.

All things considered, Meyler looks to be the obvious choice.

It's known the players were keen for Kingston to stay in charge but handing the reins to Meyler might be the next best thing.

His knowledge of the players and their set-up ensures minimum upheaval. And that might be exactly what Cork need just now. He has experience of the set-up and he also has first-hand knowledge of the emerging young stars on Leeside, having been in charge of the U-21s this year.

The emergence of the likes of Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Colm Spillane, all of whom are All-Star nominees, gives huge hope for the future.

Some established names are in top form too. Damian Cahalane probably had his best year for Cork while Patrick Horgan sealed his place in the history books when overtaking Christy Ring in the scoring charts.

It's clear too that there is significant talent coming off the production line, meaning this is a crucial appointment for the county as they look to secure a first All-Ireland title since they completed back-to-back wins in 2005.

The loss of Kingston is a setback but there's no doubt that he has laid solid foundations that the Rebels can build on.

Whoever takes his place will know that Cork will bounce into 2018 with no little optimism.

Irish Independent

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