CORK football manager Ronan McCarthy is confident that he has made the right call to stay in charge for another two years.
McCarthy’s three-term ended when Cork lost to Tipperary in the Munster SFC final in November but he has opted to remain in the role and feels that the current group of players can improve on progress made.
‘I don’t think there was any deciding factor that made the difference,’ he says.
‘I had to weigh things up between my work and my family, I have other commitments and you’re constantly asking yourself if you’re able to give it the time that’s required.
‘That would be a factor, and the other question is whether you believe you can bring the team further by staying. There’s always the danger that you’re going to stay too long, but I felt that, with the backroom team that has been assembled and the quality of players that we have, it was definitely worth continuing on.’
Added to McCarthy’s management team for this year are West Cork pair Bobbie O’Dwyer (Urhan) and John Hayes (Carbery Rangers), with Ballinora’s Gary O’Halloran stepping away for personal reasons.
‘Every appointment like that is strategic,’ McCarthy says.
‘When I started in 2018, Eamonn Ryan was involved with us and he had been there with Peadar in 2016 and 2017, so there was a continuity there, and Seán Hayes had had four years with the U21s so he had a good grasp of the young players coming up.
‘It’s similar here – you have Bobbie, who would have a very good overview of the players coming out of U17 so that’ll be a big help. Then, John has been a top player and he’s familiar with the players around the county but he’s a very strong thinker about the game, too. Hopefully, they’ll add to the quality that we already have in the backroom.’
Given that the end of the 2020 season and start of 2021 campaign are so close together means that it’s difficult for new players to make an impact, but McCarthy sees positives in the wraparound, too.
‘Certainly, there’s a shorter window,’ he says.
‘I’ve said previously that you need to give players time but, realistically, if you’re a player coming in, it’s a very short run-in to the league and it’s Division 2, so we’re after moving up a level.
‘It probably will be more difficult to integrate players, something we’ve done quite successfully over the last few years. We’ll still try to do that and it’s important that we do, but we’ll just have to be more strategic with it.
‘It is very squeezed, but there are two positives. One is that this is the first year that the coach is the same person as the previous year, so there’s continuity there. If you were a manager starting in year one, you’d be in a very difficult position.
‘The fact that it’s year four for me and year two for Cian [O’Neill, coach] and Kevin [Smith, strength and conditioning coach], that’s a help, and also, because we have such a short break, that gives continuity too.
‘It’s not ideal, but I think we’re probably in a better place than other counties.’
Cork would obviously be in a better place if they had beaten Tipp to end an eight-year wait for a Munster title. While it’s a game to be learned from, is there a danger of dwelling on it too much?
‘Both points are valid,’ McCarthy says.
‘We’ve looked back on that game and, certainly, what I would is – and I said it immediately after the game – that for big championship games like that, a three- or four-week break does help.
‘One of the things with that is, win or lose, there’s a drop afterwards, a bit of a lull, and you build slowly for the next one.
‘With a two-week turnaround, that’s difficult to do and you saw it with Tipp in the All-Ireland semi-final. Mayo had three weeks, Tipp had two and the euphoria of winning and everything else, so it’s hard to lift it.
‘I think there was a combination of factors. We just didn’t quite get to the pitch of the game and Tipp have caused Cork trouble a number of times over the last few years. The issue was that, if we weren’t quite at it, we were vulnerable and that’s the way it proved.’
Injury-wise, McCarthy is satisfied that Cork are in relatively good shape.
‘Seán Powter and Kevin Crowley are back,’ he says.
‘Liam O’Donovan, it will probably be April before he’s ready and Ciarán should be back around the end of the league, all going to plan.
‘We’re reasonably okay and if things get pushed out, it gives players a longer window. We saw that with Ruairí Deane last year, it looked like he’d miss all of the championship but he ended up being available.’
Also back is goalkeeper Mark White from Clonakilty.
‘Last year, obviously, he was going to go travelling,’ McCarthy says.
‘We spoke at the start of the year and he wasn’t going to be there for the championship so he stepped away. He’s back now and we’re delighted.’
Cork are set to return to proper training at the end of the month, but last week footage of the squad on a team-building exercise in Youghal came to light. In the wake of that, McCarthy said that all protocols had been followed with regard to Covid-19, though it is thought that Croke Park will seek observations to ensure that no training-ban rules were broken.
To that end, McCarthy underlines the belief that no breach occurred.
‘It’s important that people know that all of the rules were followed,’ he says.