Scapegoating Denis Ring is ridiculous but a director of hurling is long overdue to improve Cork at every age

Scapegoating Denis Ring is ridiculous but a director of hurling is long overdue to improve Cork at every age
Former Cork manager Donal O'Grady. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

IF we’d been told in the winter of 2016 that Cork teams would appear in three All-Irelands, land two senior Munster titles and another two underage provincial crowns over the next three seasons, we’d have been delighted.

Admittedly the bar was set very low after the nadir of a season where the Rebels were humiliated in Thurles against Tipp and Wexford and minimal progress, courtesy of a minor victory at Walsh Park, was made underage.

The development squads had shown a bit of promise, but nothing to suggest Cork would be competitive any time soon.

Instead Rebel hurling emerged back into the light, at least on the Munster scene, led by Darragh Fitzgibbon, Mark Coleman and Shane Kingston, which reignited the form of Patrick Horgan and Anthony Nash.

Darragh Fitzgibbon. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Darragh Fitzgibbon. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Brian Turnbull, Daire Connery, Sean O’Leary Hayes, Ger Millerick, Robert Downey and, this summer Shane O’Regan, caught the eye in the younger grades.

You’d anticipate Tim O’Mahony, Deccie Dalton and Robbie O’Flynn will be key panellists under the new senior boss.

Yet in the wake of the carnage that was the All-Ireland U20 final hammering against Tipp, it’s very difficult to remain upbeat.

Perhaps unfairly for the players in action last weekend, the U20 defeat is intrinsically linked to the previous year’s U21 misfire when Cork walked into a sucker-punch from a Premier outfit they were more talented than and had swatted aside in the Munster final.

On this occasion, Tipp, spearheaded by Jake Morris in the wake of his excellence for Liam Sheedy’s seniors, were clear favourites, but had still needed a dramatic late Morris goal to deny Cork a month earlier in Semple Stadium.

The Rebels were extremely nervous in the opening exchanges and Tipp ruthlessly exposed that, converting 11 of their first 13 chances, four of them to raise green flags.

Denis Ring and his management have shipped a lot of flak this week, which isn’t surprising as they were heavily criticised even when their teams have won in recent seasons, and this is the third year in a row they’ve lost an All-Ireland final, minor in 2017, followed by the U21 disappointment and now the U20s.

That’s a run of harrowing defeats.

Denis Ring. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Denis Ring. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

They certainly made mistakes last Saturday, going for a man-marking approach across the defence which didn’t pay off at all, while the attacking set-up didn’t offer enough support to Turnbull and O’Regan. Over the campaign, the attack was unsettled, while Connery was moved around a bit too much.

If the selectors had their time back, you’d imagine they’d go with a more direct approach for the Tipp rematch.

What shouldn’t be forgotten is that from Cork’s All-Ireland win in September 2005 to the horrorshow of 2016, the county only reached three finals, 2006 and 2013 at senior, and 2007 at minor.

In fact, Cork didn’t even make a Munster minor final from 2008 to 2017 and only managed two appearances at U21, 2007, winning with a fine team including Horgan, Eoin Cadogan, Shane O’Neill, Colm O’Neill, Pa Cronin and Cathal Naughton, and 2011, when Aidan Walsh shot the lights out, but Limerick still prevailed.

There were actually a handful of Corkonians delighted to be proved right about Ring’s management by Cork’s no-show against Tipp at the Gaelic Grounds. Which is a sad state of affairs considering what Ring, and his backroom, have given Cork and how many good performances we’ve witnessed at minor, U21 and U20 in the last three years.

Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Their term is up now and there’s a clean slate for Cork County Board CEO Kevin O’Donovan to bring in new men at minor, U20, and senior. Aidan O’Connell’s appointment as high performance manager is encouraging, given his excellent reputation with Munster Rugby and experience with the Cork footballers under Conor Counihan.

Counihan is currently co-ordinating the county’s five-year football plan, which has already yielded an All-Ireland dividend, but, as we’ve said numerous times before, a director of hurling is badly needed.

There’s an extensive list of candidates out there for various positions, as selectors, coaches, and managers of Cork’s elites teams. Ben O’Connor, Tom Kenny, Ger Cunningham, Ronan Curran, Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Donal Óg Cusack, Jamie Wall, Pat Mulcahy, and more have vast experience and are Rebels to the core.

Donal O'Grady and Con Murphy. Picture: INPHO/Kieran Clancy
Donal O'Grady and Con Murphy. Picture: INPHO/Kieran Clancy

Donal O’Grady would be the perfect director of hurling, given his no-nonsense demeanour and defensive excellence. Frailties at the back have undermined Cork repeatedly in recent years.

In general, Cork hurling is in far better health than it was midway through the decade. That is reflected at schools level, with Cork supplying the Harty Cup and senior B finalists last season, along with the top two at U15 A and B, and the U14 winners in Midleton CBS.

It’s not all doom and gloom, but there’s no denying that shrewd appointments and a more cut-throat approach in identifying and developing tough, more physical young hurlers, is needed.

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