Ground clearance falls short ahead of major Rebels' rebuild
A dearth of new talent means Denis Walsh's efforts will take some time, writes Damian Lawlor
I N the days after Seán óg ó hAilpín was removed from the Cork hurling squad, a host of former players declared that more big names would follow as Denis Walsh's rebuilding job started in earnest. So far, however, that hasn't been the case.
Donal óg Cusack, Ben and Jerry O'Connor, Kieran 'Fraggy' Murphy and John Gardiner are all expected to play next season. By all accounts, Tom Kenny was told by management that more was expected from him in 2011 but he, too, will be present next season. Rumours that Ronan Curran was contemplating retirement appear to be off the mark and he is another big name expected to be present when pre-season training starts.
It is understood that Seán óg's brother Aisake won't make himself available for next season after what has happened, and players like Mark O'Sullivan, Graham Callanan and Anthony Nash are sweating on their places.
But even though there have been no other high-profile culls, two things occurred when ó hAilpín was left off the panel in pretty ruthless fashion last weekend. Walsh laid down a marker by dropping his athletic and celebrated wing-back and in doing so he surely marked himself out as the man to oversee the restoration job.
Only ó hAilpín loses out this time around but over the next two seasons or so, the likes of the O'Connors, Curran, Kenny and Fraggy Murphy will depart the scene and a new breed will be ushered in. And in dropping ó hAilpín, Walsh has now started that ball rolling in earnest.
Most Rebel fans who left Croke Park after the dispiriting defeat to Kilkenny were united in their belief that a complete restructuring of the team was needed. The surprise is that it's only Seán óg who has suffered.
Then again, Walsh has to be cute. He can't drop players in their droves because the production lines have stalled. There is little or nothing coming through the underage channels and it's not often you say that about a county like Cork.
When Jimmy Barry Murphy took the senior team in 1999, many of his young team had tasted minor and under 21 success. Walsh does not appear to have that level of talent at his disposal.
The county hasn't won a minor All-Ireland since 2001 or an under 21 title since 1998 and it's clear that not enough quality players are coming through. Hence the need to hand players like William Egan, Lorcan McLoughlin, Ray Ryan, Seamus Corry and Shane Murphy the chance to stake their claim for the future in next year's National League.
There is another problem that arises for Cork hurling. The issue of dual players is a real problem. Traditionally, those blessed with the capacity to play both codes would choose hurling. Take Brian Corcoran, Seán Óg, Tom Kenny, John Gardiner and Ronan Curran as examples of that.
But with the rise of the Cork football team, young players of the calibre of Ciarán Sheehan, Colm O'Neill and Aidan Walsh have all opted for Gaelic football. They are a huge loss to the hurlers.
Earlier in the year, Tomás Mulcahy flagged this problem and it's becoming an even bigger issue now with the hurling team struggling so badly.
There are other issues. Go back to that ill-fated Kilkenny performance -- their touch was terrible and the tempo of their hurling quite slow. They played Aisake on the edge of the square but he scarcely saw any ball and struggled to make an impact.
Tactically, they were all over the place. There's no escaping the fact that the players seemed uncertain of which game plan to deploy -- a direct style or a short running game that the older team members were renowned for. In the All-Ireland final against Galway in 2005, they mixed their style with distinction, catching Galway on the hop with long balls to Brian Corcoran.
Walsh now has to re-examine the Cork style of hurling. They are caught between two stools at the moment.
Even though so few counties are capable of winning an All-Ireland hurling title, it doesn't look healthy for Cork over the next four or five years. The general feeling is that when the big guns walk away there is a dearth of talent to replace them. They may have introduced development squads in the recent past but those on the ground say greater resources need to be pumped into those elite programmes.
While this year's county final was extremely entertaining, the county championships in general need to be looked at. There are way too many senior teams in the county and the standard has been lowered. The 2011 panel will be cut to 26 players -- last year, at times, there were up to 36 players involved. While it's understood that seven players in total have been culled by the manager, none hold the high profile of ó hAilpín.
Whether justified or not, management have made their call. Others are lucky not to have gone out to grass with him but one thing's for sure -- the hurling team that defined an era, on and off the field, is slowly being phased out.