Sport

Cork footballers on a hiding to nothing

May 26th, 2018 10:00 AM

By Tom Lyons

Cork's Mark Collins under pressure from Alan Campbell of Tipperary during their Allianz Football League Division 2 Round 1 game at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last January. (Photo: George Hatchell)

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I’M an optimist when it comes to the Cork footballers. No matter who they’re playing, I always have a faint thought at the back of my mind that maybe this is the day they will finally come good and show the world that we are genuine Sam Maguire contenders. 

Maybe it’s the fact that I hail from Sam Maguire’s own country, Dunmanway, that gives me this hope every year but it’s probably more likely that it’s Cork’s inconsistency that leaves that little space for hope. Is there a football team in Ireland as inconsistent as Cork down the years?

Of course we had spells in the past when we seemed to be ready to drop that inconsistency tag, but they were few and far between. Tadhgo Crowley’s men in the 1940s, Billy Morgan’s team of the late 1980s and Conor Counihan’s warriors in the first decade of the 21st century. They gave us a boost and a hint of what it would be like to be competitive almost every year, but it never lasted and here we are now, right in the midst of another era of total uncertainty as regards our prospects.

Did we see this coming in 2010 when we last landed Sam Maguire and we were dominating the National League? That was consistency, but we should have known what was to follow. 

Why do we refuse to face reality when it comes to Cork footballers? We have always under-achieved as a football county, always will if present underage trends are anything to go by. Five years without a minor win over Kerry? The development squads, as in hurling, were to rectify that, but they haven’t.

It’s not only inconsistency in results from year to year, its inconsistency in games themselves. Cork football teams could easily set the world on fire in the first half of any game and then collapse totally in the second, or vice-versa.

From match to match we never know what to expect from Cork. Take this year’s league. A first-round defeat against Tipperary in our own brand new Páirc Uí Chaoimh. That really hurt, especially for those of us brought up in an era when Tipp were just fodder for Cork footballers. But we followed that with a superb win away against Down, good days again?

Then we had it all against a poor Louth side, good, bad and indifferent, nothing changes really. It was rock-bottom again at home against Cavan, but when all seemed lost, we were thrown a promotional lifeline with a fine win away against Meath. 

We even dared to talk about Division 1 football for 2019 but we should have known better. The crash came again in our own backyard when we flopped to Clare. 

Now the talk was about relegation to Division 3, but even though we battled to a respectable defeat against Roscommon in the last game, we only survived in Division 2 because of other results. 

How many Cork football people are happy to be playing in Division 2 while they watch the big boys grabbing all the headlines in Division 1?

     The league campaign was typical Cork, rebuilding or otherwise, and the inconsistency got worse instead of better. Our failure to deliver the goods at home was alarming, losing three home games out of four. How come? 

Maybe we should look at the lack of real support for Cork footballers among our own. 2,000 supporters at a Cork home league game would be a huge crowd, usually it’s only half that. We’re too embarrassed to mention the few supporters who travel to away games. 

But then, you earn support, as the hurlers did last season, and the footballers haven’t exactly been doing that. They haven’t been helped by a management team that completely ignores the Cork football support, the ban on players talking to the media in recent weeks typifying that attitude. Do they want our support or don’t they?

So why are we always optimistic that Cork might just deliver in any given year? Do we really think we will beat a much better and well-organised Tipperary team on Saturday night, with a handful of Cork supporters to shout the players on? We can’t even name the Cork team as we write this on Tuesday.

Only three Cork players, Ian Maguire, Mark Collins and Jamie O’Sullivan, started all seven league games, with Tomás Clancy playing six and subbing in the seventh. Kevin Flahive and Kevin Crowley missing only one game. 

Both Seán White and Ruairí Deane missed the last two games through injury after lining out for the first five. So if we take it that those eight players are available, then they should be automatic choices and backbone the side. That leaves seven positions to fill.

There are three goalkeepers on the panel and the selectors seem to be favouring Clon’s young Mark White, brother of Seán, but to me it would make more sense to keep White for the Cork U20 team and play Ryan Price instead. Jamie O’Sullivan will man the full back berth with the corner backs being picked from Kevin Crowley, Kevin Flahive, Sam Ryan and Mícheál McSweeney.

Cork are in serious trouble as regards a strong centre back, with Brian O’Driscoll out injured. Why Tom Clancy of Clonakilty hasn’t been brought back to the panel is mystifying, as he is the ready-made answer to that problem. 

Tomás Clancy will hold down one wing back position and the other two spots will come from Flahive, Crowley, Matthew Taylor and Conor Dorman. Ian Maguire will anchor midfield and Cillian O’Hanlon seems to have laid claim to the second position in recent games. Ruairí Deane is an option here, but the big Bantry man should claim a wing forward slot.

Colm O’Neill, Mark Collins and Stephen Sherlock were the top scorers during the league with Seán White also grabbing vital scores. Luke Connolly of Nemo didn’t figure in the league, but can’t be left off the team, while Brian Hurley has looked very sharp in training since his return. 

My half forward line would be Connolly, White and Deane, with Hurley, Collins and O’Neill in the full forward line. John O’Rourke would be unlucky to lose out there, while Peter Kelleher, Stephen Sherlock, Michael Hurley, Cathal Vaughan and Donncha O’Connor could all see game time.

The game will eventually be decided by how the Cork defence copes with Tipp’s free-scoring forward line and we await with interest the plan the team management comes up with to deal with Michael Quinlivan, Conor Sweeney and Liam McGrath. If they try one on one, then it’s curtains for Cork.

Would we be surprised at a Cork win? Yes. Would we be disappointed at a loss? Yes. 

Which result we will get from inconsistent Cork, God alone knows!

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