A TOTAL of 50 players.
Since Graham Canty lifted the Sam Maguire back in September of 2010, a half-century of new players has been introduced to the Cork football team, tasked with returning the Rebel County to those lofty heights.
Including the twenty-five players that played their part in the All-Ireland winning campaign, it brings to a grand total of 75 the number of players used by Cork in the heat of championship over the past decade.
Although glimpses of a revival can be deduced from last season’s performances, as well as the subsequent showings in this year’s league, the latest cohort of footballers have also been unable to arrest the decline in Cork’s championship fortunes.
A win percentage ratio which stood at 86% at the conclusion of the triumphant 2010 season (six wins from seven games) has trickled steadily to a paltry 53% (24 wins from 45 games). The home defeat to Roscommon last Augusts bookended the decade, almost nine years to the day that Cork stream rolled the Rossies at Croke Park in an All-Ireland quarter-final.
A decade in a microcosm.
Of the 2010 All-Ireland winning team, only Paul Kerrigan remained as an active participant ten years down the line, the remainder of Celtic Cross holders having all left the stage due to a culmination of retirement, injury and the allure of the small ball (or oval ball in the case of Ciarán Sheehan).
The departure of Conor Counihan in 2013 along with six of team that featured in the All-Ireland final against Down, namely Alan Quirke, Noel O’Leary, Graham Canty, Paudie Kissane, Pearse O’Neill and Sheehan, marked the end of an era. What ensued was a revolving door policy of personnel change, hindering the team’s regeneration and ultimately exacerbating its decline.
When Brian Cuthbert was installed as the new Cork manager, he set about introducing new faces to fill the positions vacated by the glut of retirements. Over the course of his two-year reign, he used 34 players, handing championship debuts to 12 new players.
Tellingly, of the 12, only Ian Maguire, Ruairí Deane and Stephen Cronin (who is gone off the panel this season) were involved in last year’s championship, while three of the players (Donal Óg Hodnett, John Dineen and Cathal Vaughan) haven’t played championship football since his departure.
Similarly, of the 10 players introduced under Peadar Healy, only Luke Connolly, Michael Hurley, Sean Powter and Sean White seem to be part of the current incumbent’s plans. Gary Murphy, Niall Coakley and Sean Kiely, below, all handed debuts under Healy, haven’t featured as part of the new regime.
While the capability of some of the players introduced under Cuthbert and Healy is certainly debatable, the managerial upheaval has unquestionably proved a deterrent to their development.
Thus far, Ronan McCarthy has availed of 36 players, granting a further 14 championship debuts. Even in his short period at the helm, the turn-over in personnel has been stark, eight championship players from his maiden season playing no part in the 2019 championship.
As a means of reference, Kerry have used 67 players this decade, eight less than their provincial neighbours. While the difference may seem unsubstantial, it could be argued that the Kerry team has undergone two different transitional phases, all the while appearing in four All-Ireland finals (winning one), while maintaining their vice-grip on Munster. Of the Kerry players involved in the 2014 All-Ireland winning campaign, 13 of them made their debuts after 2010.
Similarly, of the group that almost toppled Dublin last September, a remarkable 19 of them made their debuts after 2015. While one All-Ireland title over the course of 10 years is perceived as a fallow period in the Kingdom, their relative achievements when compared to our misfortunes has disproved the theory that a lack of success is a natural by-product of regeneration.
Kerry have proven that it is possible for teams to undergo transitional periods without sacrificing competitiveness and that the integration of new players can rapidly reap rewards. This bodes well for the next decade of Cork football. The national titles attained by the U20 and minor teams last season, as well as the recent encouraging displays of the seniors indicates that Cork football is finally turning a corner.
The average age of last year’s championship team was just over 25 and will only decrease as players from the successful underage teams progress up the ranks. Additionally, 13 players played in five or more championship matches last season, all of whom competed admirably at the highest level. After years of chaos, it appears as though a modicum of stability has finally returned to Cork football.
Ten years ago this month, the Cork footballers beat Dublin comprehensively in the league en route to the first of two national titles that year. Unthinkable at the time, but the good days were already coming to an end. Hope has replaced expectancy.
But hope there is. After a decennium horribilis, we’ll take it.
Cork players in Championship (2010 – 2019):
Paul Kerrigan (Nemo Rangers), Michael Shields (St Finbarr's), Aidan Walsh (Kanturk), James Loughrey (Mallow), Mark Collins (Douglas), Alan O'Connor (St Colum's), Eoin Cadogan (Douglas), Daniel Goulding (Éire Óg), Donncha O'Connor (Ballydesmond), Paddy Kelly (Ballincollig), Colm O'Neill (Ballyclough), Paudie Kissane (Clyda Rovers), Brian Hurley (Castlehaven), Ian Maguire (St Finbarr's), Tom Clancy (Fermoy), Alan Quirke (Valley Rovers), Jamie O'Sullivan (Bishopstown), Ciarán Sheehan (Éire Óg), Graham Canty (Bantry Blues), Kevin O'Driscoll (Tadhg MacCarthaigh), Noel O'Leary (Cill na Martra), Pearse O'Neill (Aghada), Ken O'Halloran (Bishopstown), John O'Rourke (Carbery Rangers), Fintan Goold (Macroom), Ruairí Deane (Bantry Blues), Ray Carey (Clyda Rovers), Luke Connolly (Nemo Rangers), Stephen Cronin (Nemo Rangers), Colm O'Driscoll (Tadhg MacCarthaigh), Sean White (Clonakilty), Barry O'Driscoll (Nemo Rangers), Mark White (Clonakilty), Kevin Flahive (Douglas), Brian O'Driscoll (Tadhg MacCarthaigh), Thomas Clancy (Clonakilty), John Miskella (Ballincollig), Matthew Taylor (Mallow), Kevin Crowley (Millstreet), Noel Galvin (Ballincollig), Liam O'Donovan (Clonakilty), Killian O'Hanlon (Kilshannig), Peter Kelleher (Kilmichael), Ryan Price (Skibereen), Damien Cahalane (Castlehaven), Eoin Cotter (Douglas), Michael Hurley (Castlehaven), Sean Powter (Douglas), Conor Dorman (Bishopstown), Nicholas Murphy (Carrigaline), Eoghan McSweeney (Knocknagree), Nathan Walsh (Douglas), Derek Kavanagh (Nemo Rangers), Kevin O'Donovan (Nemo Rangers), Cian Kiely (Ballincollig), Sam Ryan (St Finbarr's), Niall Coakley (Carrigaline), Sean Kiely (Macroom), John Hayes (Carbery Rangers), Andrew O'Sullivan (Castletownbere), Denis O'Sullivan (Ballinascarthy), David Goold (Macroom), Fiachra Lynch (Valley Rovers), Michael Martin (Nemo Rangers), Donal Óg Hodnett (Skibereen), Steven Sherlock (St Finbarr's), Ronan O'Toole (Éire Óg), Gary Murphy (Castletownbere), Alan Cadogan (Douglas), Cathal Vaughan (Iveleary), John Dineen (Éire Óg), James Fitzpatrick (Carbery Rangers), Ger Spillane (Ballygarvan), Kevin McMahon (Carbery Rangers), Aidan Browne (Newmarket)