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A Rebel-Ution Is Needed In Cork Hurling

Anthony Nash Cork

A passionate Cork hurling fan laments the Rebels’ demise, and ponders where to now for Kieran Kingston’s team.

“There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark” , to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The same can be said about the state of Cork hurling after Saturday’s lame performance.

Like a Shakepearean tragedy played out in the amphitheatre of Croke Park, there were heroes, villains, and for all us Cork supporters, tragedy in the end.

In truth I went to headquarters more in hope than expectation, just to see how bad things actually are with the Rebels. Even though our footballers put on a performance that showed some character and structure, our hurlers were not only inept, they were rudderless.

The signs were not good coming in to the game, as management and players all week talked up Cork’s performance against Waterford as being better than the match against Galway, and also how they finished strongly and were unlucky in the end not to draw.

It’s understandable that management and players talk this way, keeping things positive and not rocking the boat, but to the outside observer, both performances were unacceptable and Cork needed to prove a point against a team of similar mental frailties as themselves.

From the start I was worried, looking down from the Cusack Stand, Cork’s set up was amazing. This was a game not to lose no matter what, a time to set up with a solid defensive shape, with bodies around the middle of the pitch and quick ball to the inside forward line.

Instead, they started with two of the smallest midfielders in inter-county hurling, no bodies behind the ball, no structure nor plan. If dropping Bill Cooper in between the half back line and midfield is the best defensive system we can come up with, then it was going to be a long night.

Every puck out Anthony Nash went long with was won by Dublin. Not one outfield player can win possession in the air. This left our frustrated goalkeeper with no choice but to go the short route which Dublin pressed up on and more trouble ensued.

Kilkenny are the greatest hurling team of all time, not for doing great things on the pitch, but for doing the simple things consistently great. Every player on their panel has fine-tuned the basic skills of the game, and this can be seen in every Kilkenny team, be it minor, u21, or Senior.

Cork’s hurling structure has pyrite and the cracks are evident in the senior team, a legacy of poor forward planning, improper structures and a lack of vision.

An example of this could be seen last Saturday night when the best hurling coach in Cork was managing the opposition. Yes there is a lack of underage players coming through, but on Saturday three of the players to be subsituted were Daniel Kearney, Pa Cronin and Stephen McDonnell. McDonnell our current captain, Cronin, former captain, and Kearney our most experienced midfielder.

Every team needs leaders, men the rest follow into battle, players who lead by example, set the tone, and make the big plays. The problem with our hurlers is not only the lack of young players, but the form of our experienced so-called leaders who would not make any other top inter-county team.

It is easy to blame the players but management have also got to take some responsibility. When Kieran Kingston took over, one of his first decisions was to appoint Stephen McDonnell as captain and relieve Anthony Nash of his duties. To this writer, this was a bizarre decision. Nash ticks all the boxes of what a captain should be to Cork. He leads by example as Cork’s most consistent player over the last few years, is guaranteed his place, and is one of the team’s most experienced players.

The Rebels’ obsession with the traditional values of the ancient game of hurling is honourable. However the modern game is now about structure and defensive set-ups, where rotation of players and speed of foot rather than ball is the modern twist of ‘let the ball do the running’.

When Derek McGrath took over Waterford, his first decision was to give his players a structure of play which made them defensively sound and difficult to beat. He was heavily criticised by a lot of hurling folk in his own county for being too negative and for not playing a Waterford brand of attacking hurling. Need we say more?

When Kieran Kingston took over along with his selectors, I was expecting to see a similar approach. After what happened to Cork last year, it was evident that Cork have a soft underbelly, a steely resolve and a defensive set up was urgently needed. Instead, what we have seen so far is the same players, in the same positions, making the same mistakes, under new management.

The county board have also a lot to answer for. How can you plan for the future when you allow an asset like Diarmuid ‘The Rock’ O’Sullivan leave the u-16 hurlers where he has done trojan work over the last couple of years. A former player held in high regard, coaching our young players who learn from an icon of the game

It felt over the last few years like a plan had been implemented, and surely now Diarmuid O’Sullivan would nurture these talented crop of players all the way to minor grade. Similar to what the Dublin county board implemented years ago with their juvenile inter-county football teams, we now see the fruits of this where Ciaran Whelan is part of this year’s Dublin minor football team, a journey which started with these players five, six years ago at juvenile grade. Whelan has taken these players under his wing, nurtured and developed them in to young footballing men ready for the adult game.

Sadly our county board could not see sense in keeping with this formula, and allowed a successful underage coach who has built up a special relationship with a talented underage team to fragment.

The shift of power in Munster hurling now sees Cork ranked fifth in the pecking order. A proud hurling county that has produced some of the best players that have ever played the game. Granted the strikes did not help, and it certainly distanced some of our retired former great players from working with the county board, or indeed our under age teams in the near future.

It is so disheartening to see the lack of the basic skill sets bereft from the current Cork team, who are unable to catch a high ball, running off the shoulder, blocking, hooking, and tackling in groups. It is unacceptable to hear that Cork don’t have ball winners. Just look at Richie Hogan (Kilkenny) or Jake Dillon (Waterford), two of the smallest players in the country, but their ability to win high or low ball, work rate, energy and defensive mindset, is a lesson for any forward in the country and a building block for any future Cork hurler to study.

The modern game is passing Cork by, the players don’t have the tools to adapt from the old traditional style game to the present day equivalent. Our best coaches are not been utilised, and some have moved to other counties. Cork need a fix, a style that can be replicated at every inter county level. They need to develop a style where forwards can defend, and defenders can attack; a vision for up and coming players, a pride in wearing the red and white of Cork, ‘the blood and bandage’.

In order to have a vision you need visionaries, leaders who aspire to succeed. In the Cork county board I feel the focus is on the past and on the redeveloped Pairc Ui Caoimh, which is necessary, but worthless if we don’t have successful teams to fill it.

On leaving Croke Park with a heavy heart, my mind cast back to the great men who wore the Cork jersey with pride; Christy Ring, Jack Lynch, Ray Cummins, Charlie McCarthy, John Fenton, Brian Corcoran Diarmuid O’Sullivan. Of course observers will cling to the hope that it is only March and only the league, but ‘beware the ides of March’, as the championship edges closer, and the same old problems remain the same. Cork have always done things the Cork way, at the moment it’s not working, and has not been for a long time.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.