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Cork U15 captain Shane Kingston accepts tbe Humphrey Kelleher Memorial Cup from Mai Kelleher in the presence of Tim McCarthy, Gearóid Ó Ealaithe and Anna Mai Dundon. Picture: John Tarrant
Cork U15 captain Shane Kingston accepts tbe Humphrey Kelleher Memorial Cup from Mai Kelleher in the presence of Tim McCarthy, Gearóid Ó Ealaithe and Anna Mai Dundon. Picture: John Tarrant
SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

Underage success proves the talent is there for Cork football to be in a far better place

LAST weekend, the Cork U16 footballers beat Kerry in a final of the Munster football tournament in Limerick. 

The Western Cork U15s team defeated North Kerry and South Kerry en route to winning their competition. At U14, Cork have four very strong regions, a couple of which could win the A final of that tournament next weekend.

Those wins and that progress provide further confirmation of the huge talent within Cork. 

 A delighted Cork West collected the Humphrey Kelleher Memorial Cup after winning the Munster U15 Football Tournament in Millstreet. Picture John Tarrant

A delighted Cork West collected the Humphrey Kelleher Memorial Cup after winning the Munster U15 Football Tournament in Millstreet. Picture John Tarrant

Within the next three years, Cork will have one of the best minor teams in the country. Cork will continue to be competitive at U20 level because talent, or lack of talent, is not Cork’s problem – the core issue is what happens next?

Why are Cork not making senior footballers out of their underage talent? Is that a fair argument either? 

Two years ago, Cork narrowly lost an All-Ireland U21 final to Mayo in Ennis. Stephen Cronin, Kevin Flahive, Sean White and Michael Hurley from that team started against Tyrone last Saturday. 

Anthony Casey was on the bench. Sean Powter was injured while Peter Kelleher came on in the Munster final against Kerry in June. 

Seven players from one team — a couple more have been part of senior panels in recent years and Seán O’Donoghue is now hurling — is more than a productive bounty from one underage group.

Sean O'Donoghue was a star footballer at U21. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer

But something is still clearly wrong when the Cork senior team continue to underachieve at an alarming rate.

Good Cork U21 teams over the last decade have translated into very little for the Cork seniors. 

The county won six out of nine Munster U21 titles between 2008-2017. 

In the same timespan, Kerry won one U21 title but, while Kerry continue to dominate at senior level, Cork continue to drift aimlessly into nowhere.

The most worrying aspect of the slippage is the general acceptance of mediocrity in Cork. 

There is minimal support for the footballers. 

They have repeatedly let down the Cork public but the spirit and goodwill towards the senior footballers is practically non-existent. There is no real anger in Cork football people towards their plight. 

If the hurlers were underperforming to anything close to that level, it certainly wouldn’t be tolerated. The hurling community wouldn’t shrug their shoulders like the football community always do. 

Because they have effectively given up. That is a huge part of the issue here. 

Cork is a hurling county. Hurling will always be given priority in the collective mindset of the Cork GAA public. 

With that reality, it’s natural that the footballers will almost feel like second-class citizens.

The Cork team which won an All-Ireland in 2010 completely altered that culture.  Driven by a cachet of huge leaders, they refused to accept their place in the natural order of Cork GAA. 

Cork football lost something when they lost that leadership. Some of those guys were excellent players but many of the players coming after them hadn’t the stomach to fight the same fight.

An iconic shot of Graham Canty. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE
An iconic shot of Graham Canty. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

That fight won't get any easier anytime soon so Cork football needs stand up for itself more. And the ideal starting point would be to dislocate itself from hurling and forge their own path.

Geographically and culturally (especially with football the dominant game in the west of both counties), Galway are similar to Cork in many ways. Hurling is a massive game in the county but it has a distinct identity in Galway because there are separate hurling and football boards. 

And that is the route Cork football needs to take.

Administration in that context may be more difficult with eight Divisions, and eight divisional boards, but if Cork football is to ever have its own identity they need to have a separate football board. They would report to the county board but that body would give football the concentration that it desperately requires. 

With around 70% of the overall focus in the county geared towards hurling, a separate football board is the only way football will ever have some form of an equal footing in the county. With a separate board, proper strategic plans can be drawn up, all driven by football people with the same goal in mind. 

During the week, former Cork footballer Colman Corrigan called for the creation of a 10-year plan, driven by the most experienced football minds in Cork football. 

Niall Cahalane, left, and Larry Tompkins of Castlehaven, pictured at the launch of AIB’s new series, The Toughest Rivalry.
Niall Cahalane, left, and Larry Tompkins of Castlehaven, pictured at the launch of AIB’s new series, The Toughest Rivalry.

Corrigan mentioned Larry Tompkins, Billy Morgan, Conor Counihan, Jimmy Kerrigan and Dinny Allen, who are now involved with their clubs. That level of knowledge, aligned with a solid development plan, could easily transform the direction of Cork football.

The talent is definitely there. 

There are more footballers than hurlers in the county but many of the best players are dual players. 

Four of the current starting senior hurlers – Eoin Cadogan, Shane Kingston, Damien Cahalane and O’Donoghue – are good enough to be on the Cork senior football squad. Alan Cadogan, who is injured, likewise.

The best dual players will always lean towards hurling. It is never easy asking players to make a decision on their future code at a young age but they are the kind of hard questions - and hard decisions - that will help define the future of Cork football.

Talent identification, especially for players playing multiple codes, and particularly in and around Cork city, and then creating and facilitating the pathway for those young footballers to become senior footballers, needs to become an urgent priority for Cork football. 

Because if many of those talented players are not lost to hurling, rugby or soccer will claim them.

Yet that’s just one of a number of priorities that Cork need to initiate if they are to reclaim so much of the ground they have lost at senior level. 

And those decisions need to be taken by a separate and independent board – with the right people involved - which want the best for Cork football.