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THE INSIDE TRACK: Cork football manager Keith Ricken has plenty of questions that need answers

December 15th, 2021 1:12 PM

By Southern Star Team

Clonakilty's Thomas Clancy coming out with the ball under intense pressure from Carbery Rangers' Brian Shanahan and John Hayes during the Cork Credit Unions Football League 1B game at Clonakilty in June.

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BY MICHEÁL O'SULLIVAN

I WONDER what new Cork football manager Keith Ricken made of the recent county premier senior football final. One of the best in recent years, St Finbarr’s won with Clonakilty a close second, but how many players from the finalists will be involved with the Rebels’ senior set-up in 2022?

We’re now at a familiar stage of the year. The local club scene is almost over and fans’ thoughts, naturally, turn to who might get called up or called back or not called back to the Cork panel for next season. With change comes that element of insecurity. The grapevines begin to move and so the gossip begins.

With new management also comes a sense of optimism, and that optimism is palpable in Cork football circles at the moment. Its source is the appointment of Keith Ricken, the All-Ireland U20-winning manager from 2019, as Ronan McCarthy’s successor. With a new manager comes a clean slate for players. Everybody is basically starting from scratch again, eager to impress, eager to embrace new ideas and be an integral part of the new manager's plans come championship.

A guy who was out in the cold under the previous regime may well find himself in pole position now and vice versa. Managers see different things in different players. Managers have different philosophies on how the game should be played. They will be looking for certain players to play different roles depending on the overall game plan.

New boss Ricken has surrounded himself with a backroom team that he knows and trusts. Some have links with him through MTU (formerly CIT), others have links with him through the Cork U20 set-up. His selectors are Micheál Ó Cróinín (Naomh Abán), Ray Keane (MTU/St Finbarr's), James Loughrey (St Brigid's/Mallow), Barry Corkery (Éire Óg) and Des Cullinane (St Nick’s). I am going to try and envisage some of the areas that the new Cork manager and his team will be trying to address in their efforts to get more out of this group of players.

I remember Clonakilty manager Haulie O’Neill saying to me on one occasion ‘if you’re not fit and you’re not willing to work hard, you can forget about trying to implement any game plan’. Last season it was obvious that Cork were well off the mark with regard to strength and conditioning. When you look at the levels that All-Ireland champions Tyrone, Mayo and Dublin have reached there is quite a gap to close. Adam Doyle and Con Burns have been handed the strength and conditioning remit and the onerous task of closing that gap as quickly as possible. That won’t happen overnight.

Clonakilty goalkeeper Mark White was in top form this year.

 

I spoke early last season about the need for a goalkeeper with a big boot to cope with the high press that the better teams are able to put on. That high press materialised in the Munster final against Kerry in Killarney and Cork shot-stopper Micheál Martin just didn’t have the range in his kick-out to cope. Clonakilty’s Mark White is the stand-out goalkeeper in Cork at the moment. He is confident, has huge length in his kick-out, has a good footballing brain and, of course, the sweeper-keeper role separates him from the rest even more.

Nailing down a full back and a centre back has to be a priority for Cork. Daniel O’Mahony and Sean Meehan filled the role on different occasions the past year. Both are good players and have big futures but are relatively inexperienced. John Cooper from Éire Óg was the best centre back I watched this year and Thomas Clancy has to be looked at again for the number three jersey.

The conundrum around Ian Maguire continues in my mind. Who should partner him? Would he be better suited to the half-forward line? Are there two midfielders out there good enough to afford the luxury of pushing him on? Maguire does most damage in the attacking half of the field. Could he play centre forward or wing forward similar to the role filled by Pierce O’Neill? Would he then be in a better position to do even more damage more often going forward?

New coach John Cleary could be tasked with two big pre-season jobs. Mark Collins got very little game time this year and at the age of 31 could be thinking his time is done. Now there was talk of him carrying an injury earlier in the year but his club form got better and better as the season progressed and he certainly still has a lot to offer in a panel of young inexperienced players. Convincing him to give it another go would be essential. Luring Damien Cahalane across from the dark side would be the other! Good luck there, John.

Sean Powter is a key man for the Cork footballers.

 

Where to play Sean Powter must be a question rolling around in Ricken’s mind, too. For me, he is not a centre back. He is not a naturally good defender. Again, like Maguire, Powter does his best work when driving at the opposition’s back line. The more often he does that, the better for Cork. Both of them (Powter and Maguire) have proven to be a central part of the good things that happen when the team performs well. Do you play Powter as a forward coming out? Do you play him at wing back? Should he be used as an impact sub when the game has loosened up?

The lads will be licking their lips at the prospect of the combinations possible up front. A full-forward line of Cathail O’Mahony, Brian Hurley and Steven Sherlock is mouth-watering. Throw in Conor Corbett, John O’Rourke, Michael Hurley and Daniel Dineen and you will see skin and hair flying at training in the fight for a jersey.

Most of all, this team needs an identity and a style of play. As Jimmy McGuinness did when he took over Donegal, he developed the team from the back out. Defence has to be the number one on the list with a concession rate that was on average around 0-19  this past season.

It certainly is an exciting time to be part of Cork’s backroom team with so many decisions to make, combinations to try out and the amount of talent young and experienced they have to play with. Getting fit, working hard and getting the balance of the team right must be key priorities.

 

 

 

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