Seán Óg gamble may leave Walsh on Lonely road
IN one of those rare white blackbird moments where a panellist admits to not knowing the answer to everything, Garrett Fitzgerald informed Vincent Browne on TV3 on Monday night that he wouldn't offer any opinion on the Sean Og O hAilpin situation.
"I don't comment on subjects I know nothing about," remarked the former Taoiseach, who also resisted his host's invitation to muse over the life and times of Wayne Rooney.
Coming up to midnight and, with so much to analyse about his own country's real problems -- as opposed to the perceived difficulties of a highly indulged, young English multi-millionaire -- Dr Fitzgerald barely disguised his exasperation. Gentleman that he is, he stopped short of saying that if Browne wanted a view on O hAilpin and Rooney, he should open a cupboard and look behind the turnips for Bertie Ahern.
Browne, a man who can't walk down a street without being surrounded by weighty issues dutifully lining up for his personal adjudication, decided that since Dr Fitzgerald wasn't going to comment he would offer his own view.
"Surprising," was his succinct summary on O hAilpin's departure. Actually, it's not that surprising since all careers -- however successful -- end sometime. Some are halted by the performers themselves, either listening to instinct's gentle suggestion that it's time to go or reacting to limbs declaring that they have taken enough.
Neither, it seems, was the case with
O hAilpin. "I would love to continue to play for Cork," he declared.
That immediately switched the focus over to manager Denis Walsh, who told O hAilpin that he wasn't in his plans for 2011. Within hours, Walsh was under attack from Diarmuid O'Sullivan, a former team-mate of O hAilpin.
"It brings Denis Walsh's managerial abilities into question once again," said O'Sullivan.
Oh no, surely not the start of another winter of discontent in Cork. The addition of 'once again' implied that O'Sullivan regards Walsh's call as part of a questionable sequence.
Whether it includes Walsh's decision not to deploy O'Sullivan away from the full-back line as fancied by the player himself last year is unclear, although it's fair to surmise that it probably was. O'Sullivan later decided to retire.
There's no doubt that Walsh has made a huge call by omitting O hAilpin from the 2011 plans. Opinion is always divided when a major figure, who states publicly that he wants to play on, is discarded.
Ultimately, management's opinion is all that counts, but it's never quite that simple and certainly not in Cork hurling.
The problem for Walsh is that however logical it might appear to clean out the old guard and re-build anew, results are all that count. There's no doubt that Cork wouldn't come anywhere close to winning next year's All-Ireland if their response to 2010 was to merely nibble around the edges.
However, Walsh's problem is that even by undertaking a serious overhaul, there's no guarantee it will be any better. After all, Cork haven't won a minor All-Ireland since 2001 or an U-21 title since 1998, so it's not as if the production lines have been fluent.
Walsh's dilemma was whether to try and repair the old model, knowing that it couldn't match the quicker versions elsewhere, or build a new one using several untried parts. He has chosen the latter on the basis that there's a possibility of success rather than the near-certainty of continued failure if he didn't make changes.
Which brings us back to his decision to omit O hAilpin and, presumably, some other long-serving stars.
It's a brave move but would he have been better advised to retain them as part of an extended panel? The last thing Walsh needs is background noises from former stars complaining about him, while such an iconic figure as O hAilpin is pictured watching games from the stands. That's fine if Cork are going well, but what if they're not?
All managers have their own method of balancing their decisions, but, from what I've observed, the more successful ones tend to have a general policy of not leaving big names off a panel.
Instead, they carry them for a period until it becomes apparent to the players themselves that they aren't going to be used, at which time they usually sign off.
It's a much neater trick and has two benefits, in that it offers the option of recalling the older player if he's going well or if his young replacement is struggling.
And if the veteran performer realises that he's not going to regain his place and slips quietly from the scene, it makes for a harmonious environment, free of recrimination and friction. It has been happening in Kilkenny for years and they haven't done too badly, now have they?