Following Cork footballers’ failings in the championship, GER McCARTHY talked to a number of local club managers to get their thoughts on the Cork football scene. What’s clear is that the county board must listen to those on the ground
WEST Cork senior and intermediate football managers are united in their belief that the current club championship structures need overhauling if Cork are to become competitive at inter-county level once again.
It has been a chastening few weeks, both on and off the field, for the Cork football management team and squad. A lot of anger is being directed at the county board and their perceived indifference to the Cork footballers’ current plight having shipped heavy losses to Kerry and Tyrone.
Against the backdrop of such unhappiness and bewilderment, a myriad of suggestions have been put forward as to how the Rebels can start the long and difficult road to becoming competitive once again.
A selection of West Cork managers agree that the first place to start is with the current Cork football championship set-ups.
‘It is extremely difficult to prepare properly for the Cork senior football championship considering we have only had one championship game at the start of the year and nothing to look forward to until, realistically, the Cork hurlers are knocked out,’ commented Castlehaven manager Liam Collins.
‘Then it will be a week’s notice and straight into championship. That’s not ideal preparation for any player or club. Young fellas want to go away for the summer, others want to go on holidays so what do you do? The summer is here and there is no club championship football being played in Cork. It is unheard of and very, very frustrating for everyone involved.’
Collins’ views are echoed by his Clonakilty counterpart Colm Aherne.
‘I think the first improvement in our club championships would be to not start them until Cork are finished their inter-county season(s),’ Aherne stated.
’Realistically, we are playing two separate club seasons at the moment. We played one club game in April but we don’t know, in the middle of July, when Clonakilty will next play again. There is an awful lot of uncertainty.
‘From a football point of view, you can’t prepare for championship when you don’t even have a date. It is very frustrating. Not having a full squad available to train affects your continuity more than anything else.’
O’Donovan Rossa manager Martin Bohane feels the length of the county club season is not helping managers or players.
‘The length of the season is the most frustrating aspect of managing in the Cork SFC,’ Bohane admitted.
‘You are trying to get players out and for us (O’Donovan Rossa), the first round is absolutely key. A huge amount of work goes into that first round game but then you have no idea when you are playing again and it is very hard to keep things going in that kind of environment.’
The same issues are being felt at both premier intermediate and intermediate level. Gabriel Rangers’ Mike O’Brien has guided his West Cork squad to the third round of this year’s intermediate championship but believes the increasing number of postponed games is having a negative overall effect.
‘There are too many league and championship games being put back and rearranged because of one thing or another and that makes it very hard to prepare a team properly,’ O’Brien noted.
‘A lot of teams don’t even bother travelling down to plays us (Gabriel Rangers) here in West Cork and we end up getting the points which is of little use to us.
‘The championship is run incorrectly in that you play one game in April and the next game, you don’t know when it is going to be. That destroys the preparation time and players are getting fed up, losing the initiative to keep putting in such a huge effort with no proper schedule.
‘The board have lost the run of themselves really when it comes to the clubs in Cork. Clubs should be number one in the county but we have lost sight of that, I think.’
So, whilst each of the managers is in agreement that change is required, what can be done to help alleviate the issues blighting club football in Cork?
‘I think if you got more games played earlier on in the year, that might help things and have a definite date when you were back playing later in the championship,’ opined O’Donovan Rossa’s Martin Bohane.
‘Reducing the number of teams involved in the championship would definitely make it more competitive. Are there too many grades within the county? I’m not sure introducing the lower intermediate grade has been of any great advantage to Cork football. Maybe you are better off playing within your divisions and making them more competitive first.’
‘For me personally, I would love to see four groups of four paying in a round-robin,’ Clonakilty’s Colm Aherne offered as an alternative to the current Cork SFC set-up.
‘Sixteen teams should be the maximum number in any of our grades. I also think the decision to do away with automatic relegation is absolute madness. If you look at Kerry, there are something like eight senior clubs teams and a few divisions.
‘We simply have too many clubs at the three grades here in Cork and that, plus no relegation, has just weakened the overall standard of our club football.’
‘I would try to get the Cork SFC run off in one block of games taking no longer than two months,’ concurred Castlehaven’s Liam Collins.
‘That would mean a game every week and everything would be done and dusted inside eight weeks. This craic of bringing in zero relegation for two or three years is a definite mistake. Championship as it was before, straight knockout, was way better in my opinion. I don’t see how all the extra games have been anyway entertaining either so championship should just be straight knockout, if you are out you are out.’
The final word on how to get the club championships back on track goes to Gabriel Rangers’ Mike O’Brien who is worried players are becoming more and more disillusioned with the local club scene.
‘Run the championship over two or three months where players, managers and supporters know exactly where they stand,’ O’Brien stated.
‘Get it run off early otherwise more and more players are going to get fed up with GAA. Players will be hungrier to play club football when they know when their games are on and can arrange their personal lives around it.
‘If you can’t sort your own club championship then your inter-county teams will continue to suffer.’