A NEW manager, new management team, new season, new hopes and expectations.
Cork football faces 2016 at something of a crossroads.
Depending on this season, Cork football could continue on its downward trajectory or could reclaim their place at the top table, where the Sam Maguire is the ultimate goal.
Whereas the new manager and his backroom team will have a lot to do with the progress of Cork for 2016, it is, ultimately, the players who step inside the whitewash, who will decide the future of Cork football for the next few seasons.
We are all familiar with the more established Cork players, who will all play a big part for the coming season, but what about the players who might have been expected to be back-boning the team but are, instead, coming off a poor 2015 and worried about their places? Or the young players who should be breaking through, a year older and a year wiser, putting pressure on the more established players?
This week we take a look at a dozen footballers from West Cork who may, or may not, make the grade this season in the red shirt.
1. Brian Hurley (Castlehaven): It’s a little strange that there should be question-marks over the Haven man’s career in the red shirt at this stage as we all thought that he would be the guiding light in the Cork attack by now. However, his highly-promising prospects took a serious hammering in 2015, especially with Cork, as he failed repeatedly to reproduce the sparkling attacking football that had marked him out as a special talent at minor and U21.
At club level he only sparked in fits and starts with the Haven and 2016 is going to be a huge season for him. Without doubt the talent is there but something has gone wrong. Good coaching and good one-to-one mentoring might solve the problem. One thing cannot be denied, Cork needs Brian Hurley in full flight for 2016.
Dónal Óg Hodnett (O’Donovan Rossa): The Skibbereen man was shaping to be one of the most free-scoring forwards in the county a couple of seasons ago but lacked the bite that was necessary to make a real impact at senior inter-county level.
Then he was transformed into a top-class club midfielder and has been one of the main reasons why Rossas are on a fine upward curve.
Everybody knows Cork are short in genuine midfield talent since the departure of Aidan Walsh and will Hodnett prove the answer to that problem? Has he acquired the steel that was missing two seasons ago? 2016 will prove whether he has what it takes at inter-county level, especially as a midfielder.
Colm O’Driscoll (Tadhg MacCarthaigh): The Caheragh man seemed to have secured a place in the forward line under Brian Cuthbert, after a few seasons in the wilderness, but the failure of the Cork attack to impress in 2015 left question-marks over his long-term future in red.
Now, he has started the new season under new management as a corner back, a totally alien position for him. What the Cork selectors have in mind for him is hard to say and will we see him as a back or a forward in 2016?
One of the hardest workers on the team, what does the season hold in store for him? We have often seen good backs being converted into forwards but rarely the other way round. Interesting times ahead for the oldest of the three O’Driscoll brothers.
John O’Rourke (Carbery Rangers): The lively Rangers’ forward has been on and off the Cork team for the past few seasons and just when he seemed to be establishing a place, he suffered a serious shoulder injury.
He seemed to have recovered from that with his club by September but then damaged it again and will probably miss the early part of 2016.
His courage in the county semi-final won him a lot of new fans but worrying is the fact that even his own club don’t know his best position, shifting him around the forward line. Will he overcome his injury and will his versatility come against him when it comes to winning a regular Cork place? It could be a career-defining season for the Ross man.
Alan O’Connor (St Colum’s): We might have thought we had seen the end of the legendary Kealkil man when last year’s comeback was stopped by a serious leg injury but reports are that he is making himself available again this season. He certainly made a difference when introduced last year but can he hope to achieve that again?
Cork midfield needs an Alan O’Connor but is it now beyond even his undoubted courage to make another successful comeback? What have the selectors in mind for him? It’s a 21-man game now and he may prove his worth as a super-sub in 2016.
Kevin Davis (O’Donovan Rossa): The Skibbereen man was, unquestionably, one of the top club forwards in Cork last season and knows where the goalposts are. He failed to tie down a permanent place at U21, probably because of his lack of physique, but has come on in leaps and bounds during the past two seasons.
His father, Don, proved that size wasn’t everything in a great career and Kevin has the scoring touch that Don lacked. His non-stop running and work-rate, allied to his scoring touch, may make him the new star of the Cork forward line in 2016. He deserves a good league trial on his club form of 2015.
Mark Sugrue (Bandon): The Bandon man had a marvellous football season with his club in 2015 – his scoring exploits lighting up the junior championship, including a hat-trick of goals in the county final. He has worn the red shirt at underage and junior, where his size was a big plus. The question is: can he make the big jump from club junior to senior inter-county?
He has been called up to the panel and he has all the attributes needed to make the grade. 2016 will be a big year for him, even if it means coming off the bench in games as he grows into the grade.
Dan MacEoin (Ilen Rovers): The Ilen player seemed to have it all at minor and U21 level – size, skill, strength and a dynamic left boot – but as the Cork senior team beckoned, he seemed to lose his way.
However, he again looked the part last year with Ilen and will be looking for a run with Cork in the league. Scoring forwards are a rarity, especially goal-scoring forwards, and MacEoin does have that talent. If he works hard on upping his pace, then we may see a rejuvenated MacEoin putting in a strong bid for inclusion in 2016.
Brian O’Driscoll (Tadhg MacCarthaigh): The youngest of the three O’Driscolls, he made a successful step-up from U21 to senior last year and has a testing year ahead of him. Can he tie down the troublesome centre back position for Cork?
He has the size, the pace, the strength and the football. What he now needs is a steadier head, more discipline and a realisation that he has immense talent when employed properly. Don’t be surprised to see him emerging as a national figure in 2016.
Thomas Clancy (Clonakilty): The Clonakilty stalwart has shown the talent and the ability but has been plagued with leg problems since breaking onto the team. He has the physique, the class and the drive to be a top-class inter-county defender, especially when he drives forward in possession.
Can he overcome his injury woes in 2016 and tie down a regular spot in a Cork defence that was changing with every game in 2015? He has to discover his best position for club and county and take it from there.
Ruairi Deane (Bantry Blues): The Bantry star was just beginning to make an impression with Cork when his cruciate went two years ago and he found it very hard to get back to the pace last season. He has high hopes of tying down a midfield spot this season as he grows more confident of his physical well-being but a problem he faces is his lack of midfield time with his club, who prefer to play him in the half-forward line.
Sean White (Clonakilty): Outstanding in the minor and U21 red shirt in recent seasons, he is again U21 this year and may have to wait another season or two to make a senior impression, but he is definitely one for the future and a few runs this season should develop him further. Was unavailable last summer as he was out of the country but is the perfect attacking half back that is needed in modern football.
Keep an eye on: Other West Cork players who will be hoping for a run in red this season include Kevin O’Driscoll (Tadhg MacCarthaigh), and Ryan Price, Mark Collins and Daniel Hazel (O’Donovan Rossa).