ALREADY it’s interesting of course. When the news finally dropped last weekend about these eagerly awaited Cork hurling appointments, it says a lot that most people skimmed through the senior and U20 management names and got their pulses raised most by the minor selection.
Kieran Kingston (and as importantly Ger Cunningham) will bring the right mix of freshness and ideas needed to the senior set-up without needing massive bedding-in time and the U20s management group has serious pedigree and depth of expertise, but still, Donal Óg Cusack taking over the minor hurlers had a genuine wow moment feel to it for Cork.
GAA folk can be more excitable about youthful promise than the present anyway but this is an intriguing prospect now. It may have been a while coming but an energy has been added. Let nobody say that Cork GAA aren’t going all in on this rebuilding process.
For all the vibes on doing the correct thing with teams and backroom dynamics, Cusack just has that box-office draw and interest level. Last Monday night we struggled through Man Utd and Arsenal’s vague attempts at playing football but were captivated by Roy Keane talking pre- and post-game; Cusack comes across as a similarly intense character with the same mix of contrariness and explosive intelligence. Vincent Hogan wrote once about coming to interview Cusack and getting a full dressing-down for 30 minutes about an article he’d written previously before getting 90 minutes of insightful thoughts and stories.
His rant with Derek McGrath on The Sunday Game this summer came across as a little mistimed but it was riveting nonetheless and provided another hint of the capacity to think outside the normal flow of hurling conversation with references to British culture. It’s possible to listen to the passion and thought processes involved and see how a hurler at any age might be inspired to play and do his best to impress a coach like Cusack.
It’s tough not to see the significances of this sort of appointment. And ok, it seems like this wasn’t the only choice at minor level and perhaps not even the first choice with an equally potentially fascinating JBM/Jamie Wall team just not coming together for various reasons.
Cork hurling is moving on, part one — the fallout from strikes and previous tussles with the county board can now be set aside mostly, though possibly only on hold for a shot of people who’ll be hoping for failure. Still, it’s a step forward from a situation where Cusack himself joked about an alarm going off if he came too close to the new Páirc or a mention in that same Vincent Hogan piece of the unlikelihood of Cusack ever getting to manage in his own county because of the history.
Now Cork don’t make decisions based on anything other than bringing in the most progressive coaches into the positions that will most benefit the county and it does indicate a shift in the idea of political power influencing key calls. Cork hurling is moving on, part two — Cusack will look to innovate, to coach a team in a particular way that’ll be the way he wants hurling to be played. It was easy to look at how Cusack played the game and see that he was a deep thinker on the game and would likely make a decent coach with a definite style.
You’d imagine it’ll be easy to see aspects of his philosophy in how Cork play the game next year, that this Cork U17 group will be recognisably a Donal Óg Cusack team, and a Seán Óg and a Tom Kenny team. He posted a brief clip a few years back of training work he was doing with St Colman’s, all knacky tight passes and short grips, a hurling wall in the background.
His dedication to personal skills work and first touch and striking was clear and had an obvious pay-off on the field. If nothing else comes of it, this ought to be an education for a group of young hurlers to be exposed to the ideas of a hurling lunatic, in the best possible way, for a season with all the tactical and technical workings that this brings together.
There are no guarantees of winning Munsters or All-Irelands at that grade especially but any players involved with Cork in 2020 should come through a better player than they began the year. Questions on the nature of the one-year term and how Cusack and his management team pitch expectations and targets for the year should play out as the year moves on.
Points of caution on this medium-term focus include the shiftiness of succession plans in particular (ask say Mick McCarthy-Stephen Kenny) and where relationships and performances don’t always flow as expected and the deliberate placing of some guys into certain positions can appear a little forced. But everyone’s been calling for a pathway in these matters for an age, where coaches/managers have a clear role for a time and a clear chance of progress through the ranks in the right circumstances.
It’s obvious, for example, that Noel Furlong (extremely highly regarded for his work with various development groups this last few years) is being put out there as someone who will step up the ladder with time.
There’s a link through the ages for players between U15/16 right through U20 and onto senior level. It’s straight-forward to see Kevin O’Donovan’s influence on the process here where a coherent defined method is growing behind the scenes in how the board plans to get Cork GAA working for itself.
Certainly this clears the space of arguments about board interference or backroom incompetence as reasons for lack of performances across the grades, where the environment really ought to help coaches/players reach their full development, whatever that turns out to be.