As the dust slowly settles on Cork’s humbling in Thurles, courtesy of Tipperary, Donal Cashin analyses what went wrong and what can be done to rectify the situation in the Rebel county.
Firstly, Cork losing by nine points to Tipperary was no surprise. This Cork team has lost its mojo and managing the Cork hurlers is now more a mental exercise for Kieran Kingston and his backroom team than a discussion on tactics. How could a team that have been at the end of heavy defeats from Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final of 2014 and Galway in last year’s quarter-final, followed by a dismal league campaign this year, suddenly find form?
Emotions are running high in Cork as a proud hurling county searches for a modern hurling identity. Blaming the county board, a lack of training pitches, the players and manager is pointless – that ship has sailed. Let’s focus on the present and the reality in the cold light of day. The players are a committed group who are mentally on the canvas at the moment.
Kingston and his backroom team need time, and any criticism around sweepers and a lack of performance is unwarranted and unnecessary. Cork were fragile heading in to this game, and the thought of Seamus Callinan and ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer bearing down on goal without any sweeper system would have been very naive. However, the way it was implemented and the choice of player utilised for this role may be questioned.
It was also disappointing to hear seasoned pundits criticising Cork’s decision to stick to the sweeper system with twenty minutes to go. Many thought it should have been abandoned, but I feel it was a correct decision to stick with the plan. The game was over at this stage and a new system needs to be persevered with in order for it to work.
No player is to blame for this defeat. Individually Cork have excellent hurlers, but as a team they don’t pass muster. A decade of mediocrity at underage level certainly does not help any future planning but that’s yesterday’s news, it’s too late now to complain about it. It’s the now we’re in and the future is the goal. But how do Cork get there successfully?
Let’s start with the basics. How many of the current Cork panel will be playing in the football championship over the next few weeks compared to Tipperary and Kilkenny? This statistic alone would be staggering. How can any dual player compete with full-time hurlers in the modern era? To maximise your potential you cannot be a master of two codes anymore.
Kingston, along with his selectors are genuine hurling people who are looking to the future while managing the present. Development squads are in place and players have been dropped. Their next job now is to train their minds and not their bodies. Confidence is at an all time low, players are wounded and Cork people’s pride is broken.
On the positive side, Cork will not meet a team like Tipperary in the qualifiers – the worst case scenario would be Dublin. A good run in the qualifiers would certainly build confidence and maybe a defeat by a couple of points against one of the top teams would be seen as progress.
The Cork public will always expect success from their senior hurling team, but it is now important to look at our minor and U-21 teams over the next few years and hope that the work which has started in our Rebel Og academies shows proof of progression.
Nobody is hurting more now than the players themselves and I have no doubt we will see a performance from this team when they play again.
The main topic of discussion over the last few days was centred around the sweeper, and whether or not Cork will go back to the traditional way for their next game. I personally believe that some defensive structure needs to be implemented, but in a way which can turn defence into attack.
The management’s resolve will also be tested in the coming weeks. Their ability to manage a crisis is now critical and their application to their players and their style of play will be monitored by all.
Hurling needs a strong Cork competing, but Cork need to sort out their hurling culture and modernise their structures in order to compete.
Donal Cashin, Pundit Arena
Listen: The 16th Man Podcast. Brian Barry and Seán Cremin discuss all things topical this week in GAA; Cork sweepers, Mayo for Sam, and the future of the provincial championships. Kerry hurler John Egan is also on the line to discuss the small ball in the Kingdom.