This week, Cork people’s sense of anticipation and pride in the red and white rebel jersey has been thrown away, recordings of the Sunday Game are on repeat and the “Up Cork” signs have been torn down in the wind.
Even down by the railway station, someone has taken the time, amid all the scrambling for answers, to paint “R.I.P. Cork GAA” on a wall.
Ignoring the actual hurling side and the day-to-day politics of the Cork County Board, one must ask – where did it all go wrong?
When did the People’s Republic of Cork go from double champions in 1990 to massacred at the hands of Galway and Kildare?
Here are five reasons as to why the Rebel county is struggling at the moment.
5. Variety in Cork
In Cork, we love our sport. Whether you’re a die-hard Na Piarsaigh fan up in the Fairfields watching a Junior B league match or a fanatical Manchester United fan down in the Old Oak bar, it’s hard not to see the large diversity of sports in Cork.
On a typical weekend, you could have AUL football matches on, rugby on for children and teenagers, rowing on in the Lee River, archery, cricket up in the Mardyke, various forms of martial arts, tennis and even American Football.
In the past 20 years, this large variety of sports has exploded with the increase of satellite towns across Cork city and county. Even in my own area, Turners Cross, is home to the famous Nemo Rangers; you also have Sunday’s Well RFC, Dolphin RFC, Tramore Atheltic and Evergreen FC, three martial arts clubs and also two tennis clubs five minutes up the road.
With such a variety in Cork, the pool of players for the GAA is spread between multiple sports, for example when you look at Darren Sweetnam signing for Munster Rugby over the Cork hurlers, or soccer player John Kavanagh choosing to play for Cork City FC as opposed to his local GAA side Éire Og.
4. Lack of Underage Success
Unfortunately, as a lifelong Cork supporter, this is something that has become all too apparent. In what has become known as the “underage famine” of Cork, each summer we are seemingly left red in the face and clutching at the faint hopes that one young player would lead us to glory.
Since 2000 in minor football and 2001 in minor hurling, All-Ireland glory has eluded us. Even at Under-21, we have to go back to 1998 for our last hurling title and 2009 for our last football.
With this lack of All-Ireland-winning teams coming through, with the expertise and experience to drag a match over the line and to know what it takes to win an All-Ireland; it’s clear why Liam McCarthy or Sam Maguire won’t be returning to Leeside anytime soon.
(The latest episode of The 16th Man Podcast)
3. Lack of Second Level Success
Once upon a time, Cork schools were kingpins in the Dr. Harty and Corn Uí Mhuirí competitions. Between the North Monastery, St. Coleman’s College and St. Finbarr’s College, Cork schools where masters of the cup between the 1920s and 1990s.
Since then, only two Cork schools have won the much-coveted competition; St. Coleman’s Fermoy in 2001-2003 and Midleton CBS in 2006. In 2014 and 2015, Rochestown College did have a good run to the semi-final and final, but the Rochestown men still fell short of silverware.
The same problems are there with the Corn Uí Mhuirí competitions, with Cork schools’ grip loosening on titles. The famous Coláiste Chríost Rí dominated the competition between the 1960s and 2000s, with the school contributing many stars to the Cork team such as Billy Morgan, James Masters and John Keirns, however their most recent success was in 2011, their only title in ten years.
2. Lack Of University Selection
In Cork, compared to most counties, you have two major colleges fighting for competition – UCC and CIT. With the large array of courses available, students are attracted from all across the country. These days, the UCC and CIT teams have become home to inter-county players from across the country, with Shane O’Donnell of Clare being a notable example.
Very little opportunity is now being given to Cork players to come through, and play at a higher level. Some players however, such as Séamus Harnedy and Aidan Walsh are exceptions.
1. The Brain Drain
Unfortunately, every county in Ireland is going through this. With some of the best and brightest young minds off on flights to Australia, America, and England, the talent pool to pick players from is shrinking. For example, Ciaran Sheehan who opted out of the Cork setup to play for AFL club Carlton Blues.
Dylan O’Connell, Pundit Arena
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