Theres much more in this Cork football team
SURROUNDED by more snow and ice and with cancellations on all sides again, it's hard to believe Christmas is almost upon us and that the GAA season has really come to a close. In a way it was a kind of false finish as the weather put a stop to various GAA events that would really have written finish to 2010. Either way we can say goodbye to it now and start thinking about the new season just around the corner.
How good a season was 2010? I suppose any season Cork wins an All-Ireland senior title must be classed as a good season and especially when that win bridges a 20-year gap. It's hard to believe that twenty years elapsed between Cork completing the great double of 1990 and Graham Canty bringing home the Sam Maguire Cup last September. When it came to it, whether we admit it or not, what every Cork footballer supporter felt as Canty raised the Sam Maguire over his head was sheer relief. Relief that the long wait was over at last, that this particular team had made the breakthrough after being so close in recent seasons and relief that despite the negative football they played for much of the campaign, they were coming home with the cup.
Yes, we won, and yes the players deserved this title, and yes, it is all about winning in the end, but forgettable? Definitely. A wonderful footballing side seemed gripped with the fear of losing for much of the season and failed to do justice to their undoubted talent. They made amends when it mattered most, in the closing minutes against Dublin and the second half against Down.
This Cork team was a class above any other team in the country for the past two seasons, bar maybe Kerry, and that was more traditional than anything, and it would have been little short of criminal if they failed to lift the title. But Cork football is full of fine teams that failed in that quest and many fine footballers retired without the coveted Celtic Cross. Nicholas Murphy, Derek Kavanagh and a few more came very close to joining that distinguished band. Ask Joe Kavanagh and Colin Corkery what it means to have to retire without winning that elusive medal.
Now that the monkey is off their backs, what can we expect of this team for 2011? First off we would like them to let loose, play the football they played in 2009 and, please, forget about the short-passing, possession football that drove us crazy this season. First-time, fast, direct football, driven by passion and hunger is what we will be looking for. What about the hunger factor? It was the hunger which carried them through a few tight situations this season, hunger and experience, against Limerick and Dublin in particular. Is that hunger sated now because they have won their All-Ireland? It would be a pity to think they would be satisfied with one single title as they are a much better team than that.
Back in 1973 Cork had a marvellous football team, put five goals past Kerry in the Munster final and destroyed Galway in the All-Ireland final. The team contained some of the greatest footballers ever to wear the red jersey and everybody was talking of three-in-a-row but they lost the edge and the hunger. Dublin beat them surprisingly in the 1974 semi-final and Micko's young marvels arrived on the scene in 1975 and that was that. Could the same thing happen to this Cork team?
Maybe they should take a good look at Nemo Rangers, who never tire of winning, or Kilkenny hurlers. Even Kerry have that lasting hunger for more success. Cork footballers, excepting Morgan's squad from 1987-1990, could never keep the hunger going. Maybe it was what separated the Cork hurlers from the footballers. When Cork hurlers win, they always want more. Surely it's time the footballers got over this belief that a single title every twenty years is good enough.
What the Cork team really needs now is for some of the fringe players to make the break through, to put real pressure on the fifteen players who got the starting jerseys last September. Most of those subs are young players and hopefully they won't be satisfied with a sub's medal. There must be more talented young players coming from the successful U21 teams and this year's minor team certainly had a few players that will be emerging in three years time.
Of course it's vital, too, that the mentors pick the players on form in 2011 and that some players won't be retained because of what they have contributed in recent seasons. Counihan should take a leaf from Cody's book. With Kilkenny you are as good as your last game and if you aren't pulling your weight, there's a sub waiting to step in. Cork, in both codes, must adopt that tough policy too.
Who will provide the real opposition to Cork in 2011? It won't matter too much whether we lose to Kerry in Killarney or not except that it would mean the qualifiers again and total disruption of the county championships. It would suit Cork much more to go the direct route this time as most of this team have played an awful lot of football during the past four years. We can take it that the league won't be a priority in 2011 as the players now have league medals in their back pockets, so Counihan can really use the league to blood the subs and young players.
I would expect Dublin to progress another step in 2011 and it was only lack of experience that caught them against Cork this year. However, while playing all their games in Croke Park is a huge advantage, the expectations of their supporters is like a millstone around their necks. They will need to unearth another couple of forwards to be real contenders but, shades of 1974, I would prefer to avoid them until the final in 2011.
Will Down continue their climb to the top? In 2009 Kildare did what Down did in 2010 but were never at the races this season. The same thing could happen to this Down side as the surprise element will be gone. Tyrone will again emerge as the main threat from Ulster, while Armagh could be dangerous. Maybe Kildare or Meath will emerge in Leinster or Mayo in Connacht but I would again see Kerry, Tyrone and Dublin as the three to beat.
Kerry will really enjoy Killarney and the chance to lower the colours of the All-Ireland champions but their chances may well depend on whether Galvin is serious about his football in 2011. Take him out of the equation and I could see Cork hammering them.
What do we really want from Cork footballers in 2011? Simple really, to win back-to-back All-Ireland titles and to beat Kerry in the semi-final or final in Croke Park in the process. That is unfinished business from 2010 and if the players need motivation, then that should surely be enough.
What can we expect from our hurlers for 2011? First off, stability. Already 2011 is starting under a cloud with the dropping of Seán Óg and the apparent dissatisfaction among the players at that turn of events. What we need is a team that will be totally focused on the job of winning matches and not one that has one eye on the manager and the other on the opposition. We would be happy with a Munster final success this season as we must accept that the team is now in transition and not up to the standard needed to win an All-Ireland title. It would be nice to think that they could produce the fanatical determination that Tipp showed in the final against Kilkenny but Cork don't do that kind of fanaticism, more's the pity.
Sometimes we think Cork hurling teams concentrate too much on hurling and not enough on the physical. We saw a hint of it against Tipp in the first round in 2010 when the team tore into the fray but it was gone again before they met Waterford. We talk of the 'Blood and Bandages' when we look back at Cork's past, and what we need now from our hurlers is a lot more blood and thunder in their play. A Munster title, some young players making the breakthrough to the team and plenty Rebel spirit is what we expect from our Cork hurlers for 2011.
Well, the decorations are up, the turkey is plucked, the pudding is steaming and the GAA books are bought. Now all we need is for the weather to let up a little so that the family, half of it at any rate, can get home for the holiday. We'll probably be suffering from cabin fever by St Stephen's Day but there's the four-mile GAA charity run/walk that day to shake off the cobwebs. If Cavan are anything to go by there's no off-season in the GAA now so we wish all players, mentors and officials the very best of good cheer for Christmas. Enjoy the break, it won't last too long. Nollaig Shona to all our readers.
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