CORK need a build a winning mentality again at underage level.
Leeside legend Brian Corcoran feels the county has lost the winning habit due to an All-Ireland drought at minor and U21, which has made it harder to get over the line at senior.
Speaking at the Bord Gáis Energy U20 Hurling finals launch at Croke Park, the former Hurler of the Year, admitted he was as disappointed as the rest of the Rebel faithful at the six-point defeat in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Kilkenny.
"It was very disappointing, especially being ahead at half-time. Kilkenny were always going to come at you at the start of the second half, they always do. 1-8 to a point, that was the turnaround in that time.
"Cork came back into it but they are too dependent on Patrick Horgan. We're all taking about Hoggy's performance but take that out and they'd have been well beaten. He's an incredible player."
Though Corcoran argued there is little between any of the main hurling counties, he believes underage trophies are important.
"It's 2001 since we won a minor and the 1990s since we won an U21. We'd a great chance last year at U21 and even though Cork had a better team on paper, they didn't put it together on the day against Tipp.
"2005 was the last senior win and there are a lot of good players there now. There isn't the habit of winning. The team I played with, Donal Óg, Seán Óg, Joe Deane, they had the mindset of winning because they'd won at minor and U21. It gave them belief. You wonder do the guys there now believe it."
"Even the minor team this year had a couple of good performances but didn't get over the line, losing a tight game. It's important to get that mindset of believing you're going to win. Kilkenny have always had that.
"Kilkenny have new faces in the squad and following on from a great team but the Cody mindset is: win, win, win. At times when Kilkenny pulled ahead Cork were relying on the Cadogans and Hoggy to pull it out. Some of the old heads. Losing the U21 final last year was a worry. They should have won that game."
Though the former dual ace is hopeful the current system will produce a better quality of young player in both codes, he feels the population swell in areas like Douglas, Glanmire, Ballincollig and Carrigaline creates its own challenge.
"Some of our clubs have huge numbers in terms of populations but that means it can be hard to cater for a panel of 45-50 kids and you get a lot of falloff in teenage years. The academy structure was lacking in Cork for a while but now it's in place hopefully it will start to pay off."
Cork are in the U20 Munster final next Tuesday in Semple Stadium, often a happy hunting ground for the Rebels. The 46-year-old doesn't think Croke Park is a problem for the seniors, despite a run of big-game losses on Jones Road.
"I remember in the early to mid 90s and we lost to Clare and Limerick and the Gaelic Grounds became like that for us. At the end of the day it's a field, Croke Park is the best stadium in the country so they've to just keep coming back.
"The Waterford game was in the melting pot until the sending-off, the Clare game in 2013 could have been won and they were six points up against Limerick so that could have been one. I don't think it's Croke Park, it's more that you're at the latter stages and it's knockout, do or die stuff.
"I don't think it's the stadium but maybe it's a lack of belief, especially when people are talking about the 15-year gap (since an All-Ireland win). In 2013 they had the game won and Clare got the equaliser and sometimes that can play in the mind. Cork need to start delivering more at underage, even though they have moved into that Rebel Óg set-up."
The Erin's Own man also made the case for a more physical club scene to aid the inter-county sides.
"Some of the club games in Cork... the inter-county and the club game are very different. Out in Croke Park you go to pick up a ball and there will be a guy swinging across you, but trying to play the ball. In Cork that'll be a free nine times out of 10.
"If there's hurley on hurley contact it's nearly always given as a free in the club game. I'm not talking about chopping, swinging wildly, but playing the ball. The club games I've been to in Cork I've been frustrated about why we're blowing frees. I'm fairly sure in a club hurling game in Tipperary, Galway or Kilkenny they're not blowing for that kind of stuff.
"Are we putting too much pressure on referees to be blowing these things? The inter-county game is a physical game but it's almost like a different set of rules for the club. Certainly, even watching my own club, we're blowing for stuff we shouldn't be."
Corcoran explained that overfussy club refereeing makes defenders fearful of coughing up cheap frees and also doesn't harden forwards to secure primary possession on the big stage.
"If you're a forward and you're used to picking the ball up unchallenged and then you go out playing Tipperary or Galway, there are hurleys flying everywhere. It's a different intensity."
The Rebel rearguard certainly lacked the ferocity required against the Cats, apart from Eoin Cadogan, but Corcoran, a former All-Star at corner-back and six, isn't sure the problem is physicality.
"I won't say there isn't steel in the Cork defence. I'd hate to be playing in the full-back line in the modern game because your corner-backs nearly need to be your fastest players because the days of lobbing ball down are gone. It's all precision-passing, into space, 60-40 in the forward's favour. There's less 50-50 ball.
"There are a lot of physical players in the Cork team."
Whatever about strength, Kilkenny showed the required cynical streak to cut the Rebel runners down in the latter stages of the quarter-final to deny them goal chances. Some have suggested a rule change will be needed to punish defenders, a hurling black card.
"You've guys coming at you and you have to be able to put your arms out and try and block them. The bottom line is because there is so much close contact it's hard to take that out of the game. If you bring in a professional foul type scenario, forwards will be waltzing past guys. It's like the shoulder-to-shoulder hit, it's hard to gauge.
"Sometimes there's desperation not to let guys score. There is the case of giving away frees as opposed to allowing goal chances, but if you're a corner-back allowing someone dance around them they won't be on the pitch for long. It's hard to eliminate because if you're too stringent then how do you tackle when players run in waves."
The former Rebel talisman man is now a supporter and he was disappointed Cork weren't facilitated with a double-header last weekend.
"I don't think it made a difference to the outcome but it would have been a great occasion to have Cork playing on the one day, particularly now with so many games. It's not that long ago that every Dublin game was nearly a full house and there were only 30,000 on Saturday. It's expensive bringing a family, week on week.
"The comment [from GAA president John Horgan] about fans wasn't accurate."
Corcoran, who lost an All-Ireland semi-final to Dublin back in 1995, didn't have any issue with the footballers having to face the Dubs on their home turf on Jones Road.
"Guys want to play here. Certainly my mentality, even you take Saturday night and the football, I'd have wanted to play Dublin in Croke Park, especially when you're from Munster and you don't play there as often."
He wouldn't get carried away with Saturday's performance against the All-Ireland champions given the gap on the scoreboard come full-time, but he is impressed with the direction the squad are going in.
"Ronan McCarthy, and it was the same after the Kerry game, spoke about not taking pleasure in moral victories. If I was playing on that team I wouldn't be going home after a 13-point beating and saying 'it was great we thought it would be 25'.
"Now they were well in it for most of the game but it was still a beating. I wouldn't be delighted with the result but there was a belief there, a pattern of play, as opposed to the negativity of a couple of months ago going down to Division 3.
"It does show that they seem to be on the right path."
As for the destination of Liam McCarthy?
"Between all the tops teams anyone is capable of beating the rest. Limerick are favourites but Cork beat them in the Gaelic Grounds earlier in the year. You wouldn't be surprised if Kilkenny beat Limerick now and Wexford-Tipp, there won't be anything between those two. It's very competitive these days.
"There's no doubt more counties are competitive. The backdoor wasn't in when I started off. With the round robin it allows you prove yourself over a whole summer."