Sunday 19 November 2017

Walsh feels heat after players ask for return of O hAilpin

Before a sliotar is pucked in the 2011 season, Cork hurling boss Denis Walsh has heightened the pressure on himself by omitting Sean Og O hAilpin from his panel.
Before a sliotar is pucked in the 2011 season, Cork hurling boss Denis Walsh has heightened the pressure on himself by omitting Sean Og O hAilpin from his panel.
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

THE workers ask and the boss says no. Nothing unusual about that but it's what happens next that creates an intrigue which can take on a life of its own.

A delegation of Cork hurlers attempted to persuade manager Denis Walsh to reinstate Sean Og O hAilpin to the 2011 panel but, predictably, were told that squad selection remained management's prerogative.

The players didn't really expect that their plea would change Walsh's mind but they felt they had to try anyway. After all, if Walsh had restored O hAilpin to the panel in order to keep others happy, his authority would have been fatally undermined. He may as well have told the players to run their own show while he remained as a mere figurehead.

Obviously, the players felt they owed it to O hAilpin to seek his return but, having been rebuffed, there's nowhere else they can take it. They couldn't possibly countenance calling a strike in support of O hAilpin but clearly there's unease in the camp over his omission.

It wouldn't be winter without some discontent in Cork but what makes the latest simmering so interesting is that it results from a decision which the manager knew would be controversial.

If Walsh had omitted some other members of the older guard along with O hAilpin it would have been regarded as a sign that he felt the panel needed some serious churning. Instead, O hAilpin was the only big name deleted from the list, inevitably leading to speculation as to why that was the case.

Walsh is understood to have told the players that O hAilpin's omission was a hurling matter only. That's totally believable, since no manager would omit any player whom he thought could do a good job for his county. Walsh would have been aware of the fall-out.

O hAilpin was no better or no worse than most of his colleagues this year and many believed that, at the age of 33, there was at least one more season in him. They would also assert that even if he wasn't good enough to win a starting place, his experience, presence and leadership would have been invaluable to Cork.

Walsh surely considered that, yet decided that O hAilpin's time was up. It was a brave decision. Walsh knows that whoever wears the No 7 jersey next year will be subject to forensic scrutiny. Every mistake -- however small -- will be magnified by O hAilpin's supporters as they point out how their man would have done so much better.


O hAilpin's presence at Cork games will even become an issue. For the first few weeks at least, his picture will feature in newspapers as a face in the crowd. He will probably give an interview at some stage and, while he's unlikely to openly criticise Walsh, it will still draw attention to his absence.

Walsh will be asked at post-match interviews if he has any plans to recall O hAilpin, especially if the half-back line is showing signs of strain.

When John Fenton, Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Denis Coughlan recommended that Walsh be appointed manager after the bitter row which ended Gerald McCarthy's term, they knew they had a man who would operate off his own instincts.

The Cork dressing-room was full of strong characters but Walsh made it clear from the start that he would be more than a mere facilitator.

A season on and he has proven that he is strong enough to take the really hard decisions, one of which was to omit O hAilpin. Question is -- was it the right call?

Only time will tell but there's no doubt it could define Walsh's managership. If Cork prosper next year, O hAilpin's absence won't be an issue but if they struggle -- even in the league -- it will continue to rumble away in the background.

All of which raises the question as to why Walsh didn't leave O hAilpin on the panel and play somebody else at left half-back before gauging how it was working. Panels are open-ended -- especially during the league -- so O hAilpin could have been retained if only to avoid the attention which his omission has drawn.

Walsh obviously felt it would be weak management to carry a player on the panel purely to avoid discord. His problem is that by showing his strength, he has piled on a pressure which neither he -- nor Cork -- needed as they seek to rebuild.

Managerial rows caused Cork hurling to dominate the winter headlines on several occasions in the past decade and while O hAilpin's omission isn't nearly as divisive it has still managed to draw attention to Leeside in the closed season. It's not what Walsh would have wanted, although he must have known the implications of his decision to drop O hAilpin.

A delegation of players asking him to reinstate O hAilpin was told politely, but firmly, that Walsh and his selectors make all the decisions regarding squad personnel. The management must now hope they have made the correct ones because if they haven't their authority will be seriously undermined.

Irish Independent

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