LAST year when the Cork County Board produced a five-year plan for Cork football, one of the central pillars in that plan was to resurrect the ‘Corkness’ in Cork football.
This puzzled many people and many critics of the plan, even outside of the county, scoffed at the whole idea. However, the instant improvement in Cork football, under the watchful eye of Conor Counihan, showed that there is, indeed, something called ‘Corkness’ and, when the footballers, from minor up to senior, discovered it, they ended up winning, landing minor and U20 titles, as well as reaching the Super 8s in senior and going through Division 3 of the National League unbeaten this season.
Then came the crowning moment when the no-hopers beat All-Ireland finalists, Kerry, proving beyond doubt that Cork football has truly discovered its ‘Corkness.’
The strange thing is that it was always the hurlers, not the footballers, who were full of this ‘Corkness’ down the years, and it is now the hurlers who most need to rediscover their ‘Corkness.’
So what is this intangible, this ‘Corkness’ we refer to? You can’t see it or touch it; there’s no way to really prove it exists, except through the performances of the county teams. ‘Corkness’ means that every Cork team that takes the field, really believes, deep inside, that not only are they going to win but that they almost have a divine right to win.
Somewhere and somehow, during the past two decades Cork hurling has lost its ‘Corkness.’ Maybe it was the strikes in the early years of this century that began the unwelcome process, as many teams afterwards looked on Cork hurlers as a pack of whingers, sad to say, and lost a lot of the respect and fear they had for the blood and bandage brigade.
Maybe, and closer to the truth, those responsible for the development of Cork hurling took their eye off the ball following the All-Ireland successes of 2004 and 2005. Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail.
Cork, through lack of proper underage development, became beatable at all underage levels. That generation of hurlers lost their ‘Corkness,’ the fierce belief in themselves, and other counties lost their fear of the red jersey. Those other counties also began to prepare better than Cork and slowly but surely the life was sucked out of Cork hurling.
Of course, there were other reasons for the fall of Cork hurling, such as over-refereeing of hurling in Cork, too much concentration on building stadia and not providing proper facilities for county teams, over-concentration on tasty hurling, picking the wrong kind of hurlers to wear the jersey, the wrong people in charge of teams, we could make a long list.
But the bottom line is that Cork hurling has lost its ‘Corkness’ and, unfortunately, there seems a great reluctance among those capable of rectifying the position, to admit anything is wrong and to go about putting solutions in place, just as was done with the footballers.
How many people really believed that Cork were going to beat Tipperary on Sunday, even though they were in the driving seat at half time? We texted a few supporters and to a person, they said Cork wouldn’t go ahead and win from a great position.
Why? Because this team has lost too many games in similar position in recent years. Games that were up for grabs in the closing stages, were inevitably lost. The ‘Corkness’ that would have driven them on to victory was sadly missing.
Can we restore the ‘Corkness’ to Cork hurling? Of course we can. If the footballers can do it, why not the hurlers?
It may take the best part of a decade to do it, but we have the beginnings of the revival with the recent minor and U.21 teams. Only a lack of ‘Corkness’ cost them All-Ireland titles but the talent is there. Get the real belief back into these young players and we should see results.
What would worry me is that bringing these young players piecemeal onto the present team will blight their progress and that they, too, will be infected by this lack of real belief.
What Cork hurling needs is a real clean-out from top to bottom at management and player levels. Introduce winning coaches, winning trainers, winning players. If we have to suffer for a few more seasons through doing this, would it be any worse than watching the present team losing the important games, again and again?
Some would say the talent isn’t available in Cork at present; too many average hurlers, not enough with star potential. Rubbish. With our underage playing numbers here in Cork, the talent is always there but has the right talent always been identified and developed or are we too quick to pick the tasty, young star and try to make a winner out of him?
Picking the right management, then picking the right kind of players and giving them the very best development possible, must be the goal. A lot of hard work is going into our development squads at present but is it the right kind of work? Are we developing the players as well as they are in Limerick for instance?
Limerick haven’t a fraction of the underage numbers Cork have, yet they can produce winning club teams and a winning senior team with a panel of genuine good hurlers as subs as well. Why? Because they are doing the right things at all levels within the county.
The ‘Corkness’ in Cork hurling must be introduced from the bottom up, from the nursery schools of hurling where the little players must be taught to be proud Cork hurlers. Are we promoting that pride in all our underage club teams in Cork? Pride in Cork, pride in their hurling, pride in the red jersey.
Being Cork must mean something again for our young players. It doesn’t mean being cocky, but it shouldn’t be far from it.
We must keep examining our underage competitive structure, which has failed alarmingly to provide All-Ireland winning minor teams. Yes, there has been great success from U.14 to U.16 at inter-county levels but what has gone wrong when those players come to minor level? Has anybody tried to pinpoint the reasons for this failure?
Then, we must ask serious questions about the set-up of our adult competitions and why Cork senior club teams are failing so miserably every year to win Munster and All-Ireland titles. A start has been made to solve this problem with the new club championships and, hopefully, that will see the re-emergence of Cork club teams as a real force again.
Because, until we get our clubs up to the right level, competing for All-Ireland titles, especially at senior level, then we will struggle with our county team.