COPING with failure in sport is a difficult thing when so much time and effort has been invested.
Players must stay positive, use the loss as a tool for improvement and stay true to themselves and their aims.
No doubt a lot of soul-searching will have gone on among the Cork football players and management since Ennis and Cork’s surprise Munster SFC quarter-final loss, and the question will have been asked, ‘Where do we go from here?’
They resumed training this past weekend in a state of limbo, not knowing yet what they are training for. Their future at the moment is out of their control and in somebody else’s hands. It will be another few weeks before they know their fate – a free shot with zero expectation in the Sam Maguire round-robin series or the Tailteann Cup. Being a Cork senior footballer is a hard station at the moment.
In times gone by, under the old qualifier system, they would probably have been out last weekend or this with a chance of getting back on the horse and getting rid of those demons that roll around in your head following a defeat. Managing the six-week gap that has resulted from the Clare defeat is going to be key for management.
Good quality challenge games are going to be hard to come by as the championship is now so condensed. If they do go looking for games, quality opposition is scarce. Tyrone and Mayo would be top of the list, but other than that it will be against opposition already consigned to the Tailteann Cup. Such opposition would present an opportunity to trial some new ideas at a lower intensity for a start.
I wouldn’t expect to see much change to Cork’s match-day 26 from Ennis, apart from players returning from injury. Brian Hurley’s loss has been well-catalogued and, as it turned out, it was a quad injury that kept him out the last day, suffered while practising his frees the Friday night before the game. Maurice Shanley’s loss was also heavily felt as he would have been the go-to guy when Daniel O’Mahony found himself in trouble on Keelan Sexton.
The gap to the next game might also see a return to fitness for Cathail O’Mahony and Thomas Clancy, who hasn’t seen game-time since getting injured in the McGrath Cup, but has been in fine form in the Kelleher Shield of late.
Digging a little deeper, I went and had a look at the U20 All-Ireland winning team from 2019. Colm O’Callaghan, who played at wing-forward that day against Dublin, was the only starter in this year’s championship. An astonishing fact, and one would have to say that there is something wrong there!
Now, to be fair, Maurice Shanley, Paul Ring, Seán Meehan, Mark Cronin, Cathail O’Mahony, Fionn Herlihy and Damien Gore (who is rehabbing following an ankle operation) are all part of the panel also. Even so, you would have expected more of them to be mainstays in the team at this stage. The question would have to be asked – is our player pathway to senior of the required standard at the moment?
As an example, Clare seem to be getting far more from a far smaller player pool when it gets to senior. But at U20, minor and development squad level Clare, wouldn’t get near Cork, year on year. It’s hard to understand. Are we overdoing it with our audacious young talents down here? Conor Corbett, Cathail O’Mahony and Michael O’Neill are players who have all picked up very serious injuries at critical times in their transition up the ranks.
Anyway, looking forward to what we all hope will be Cork’s involvement in the Sam Maguire series. There is huge pride in this group and they will bounce back but how John Cleary, Kevin Walsh and their management team provide a platform for this to happen will be decisive.
As I said in last week’s column, the rigidity of Cork’s play needs to change. Don’t get me wrong, all the better teams like Dublin, Kerry and Tyrone have playing styles and pre-laid gameplans but within that is scope for player ingenuity and the opportunity to express yourself when the opportunity arises.
Kickout variety is a must and if that means a change of goalkeeper, then so be it. The tempo of play needs to be increased. Players in the middle third need to get their heads up. The kick-passing that we saw in the early league games would be so welcome back. Is it time for a bigger body on the edge of the square – Colm O’Callaghan, maybe?
Is it better to lose the ball inside the 20m line, having put in a high diagonal ball or lose it on the 45 from slow and ponderous play with the opposition being only one kick-pass away from the scoring zone?
They have the time to right the wrongs from Ennis, it will be interesting to see what changes accrue.