BY DENIS HURLEY
SINCE Seán Óg Ó hAilpín captained Cork to the 2005 All-Ireland title and delivered his acceptance speech as Gaeilge, there have been five changes of manager and a sixth looms following the decision of John Meyler not to seek a new term in charge.
While Meyler was the stand-out candidate to replace Kieran Kingston and Kingston in turn had been the favourite to succeed Jimmy Barry-Murphy at the end of 2015, this time around there is a greater sense of the unknown in terms of who will take on the role.
Cork don’t do outside appointments – Meyler is a Wexford native but was a naturalised Rebel, having played for the county after settling on Leeside as well as managing countless club sides. With no expectation of a chance in approach on that front, the field is limited to Cork natives, for better or worse. Here, we examine some of the candidates.
Kieran Kingston: Meyler’s predecessor was in charge in 2016 and 2017, with a poor first year giving way to a transformation in the second campaign as Cork won the Munster title with a slew of young additions to the squad.
A return would ensure a level of continuity – and may also signal a reintroduction of Gary Keegan to the fold, with the high-performance expert credited with a positive impact during his previous tenure with the Rebels under Kingston.
The Tracton native, an All-Ireland medallist in 1986 and 1990, led his home club to the county PIHC final in 2010. He remains popular with the panel, but his reason for departing two years ago was work commitments and there does not appear to have been a massive change in that regard in the meantime. The presence of his son Shane in the squad would also add a potential complication.
Dónal Óg Cusack: It’s perhaps an indication of the changed landscape in Cork GAA that the former goalkeeper’s name is even in the mix, given the influence wielded by former county secretary Frank Murphy, but even so he would remain an unlikely choice.
Cusack has previous coaching experience with his club Cloyne and was heavily involved as they reached three consecutive county SHC finals in the mid-2000s, while at inter-county level he was part of the Clare set-up in 2016 and 2017 before stepping down in the wake of controversy relating to the trial of journalist Tom Humphries.
Recently, Cusack was asked if the Cork job appealed to him and he expressed an interest, albeit with some reservations, citing the importance of the appointment of a high-performance director.
‘Is it the right time?’ he asked. ‘What are Cork looking for? Is it one year, two-year, three-year? Does the manager bring in his own people? I’ve said it before; the biggest appointment that Cork are going to make over the next while is that high-performance person.’
Ger Cunningham: Another former goalkeeper who has amassed coaching experience outside of Cork and who wouldn’t be averse to the opportunity.
Cunningham was in charge of Dublin from 2015-17 and has also led Ballygunner to a Waterford title as well as working with UCC. While he was favoured by the Cork panel to replace John Allen in 2006, instead the role went to Gerald McCarthy and the three-time All-Ireland winner hasn’t featured when the job has come up since.
‘I went back this year with UCC, went back coaching and really enjoyed it, it was great fun, working with a good standard of lads, they came from all different counties,’ he said.
‘Inter-county management is a big commitment from all points of view. It would have to be something to be considered if it was there, at the time it was offered.’
Denis Ring: For those who follow patterns, the Fermoy man could be the natural candidate.
When John Meyler took over from Kieran Kingston, it was after a spell as U21 manager while Kingston’s previous managerial experience was in guiding his native club to the county PIHC final, and Ring ticks both of those boxes.
In 2016, he was in charge of Fermoy as they reached the final of the second tier hurling championship, losing to Bandon, and the following year he led Cork to the All-Ireland minor final, losing to Galway.
From there he took the U21 role, with the Rebels beaten by Tipperary in the last decider at that grade. This time around, in the first year of the new U20 championship, Ring – who was part of the backroom set-up on the last Cork team to win the minor All-Ireland, in 2001 – has repeated the feat, with the decider against Tipp coming up in three weeks’ time.
Pat Ryan: Coach to the team under Kingston, Ryan has twice managed Sarsfields teams that have won the county senior title. While it’s not beyond the realms of possibility for him to be involved again, it would be likelier as coach rather than manager.
Ben O’Connor: Currently in charge of Charleville, whom he led to the county PIHC title last year, the Newtownshandrum man would be seen as a progressive appointment but the style of play may not be to everybody’s tastes.
Jamie Wall: Made light of his 25-1 odds on Twitter and, while he won’t be the selection this time, it may happen some day. The bookmakers aren’t offering odds on the 2020 Cork minor manager, but the Kilbrittain man would be favourite if they did.