IT was interesting to watch the build-up to the Champions League final recently and note the reasons put forward for both teams to be competing in football’s showpiece.
The players got credit of course, the managers got plenty too, and then mostly there were references to the intelligence of the running of the two clubs, how both Liverpool and Tottenham have made clever decisions by people in the background with a plan on player recruitment and management and what it means to be part of that club.
As contrast, every single think piece on Man United over the last five months has stressed more about the lack of a person who knows what they’re about in charge of the football side of the club than players or management issues, how basically the main reason for the club’s drift has been an absence of know-how and decision making off the pitch, no leadership or overall culture.
A key takeaway: have good people in charge.
And it’s hard to ignore the comparisons with the Gaelic football environment here.
If you want to extend the soccer analogy - Dublin aren’t unlike Man City, threatening dominance through serious financial resources and advantages and intelligent focused ideas while perhaps Kerry are the Liverpool, the traditional power who just can’t quite get there.
Where does that leave Cork?
As Newcastle? Leeds?
A long way off after a long old time of neglect and mismanagement but you know, always capable of making a quick comeback if they can start making the right decisions ( or more accurately, get the right people making the decisions).
That process has begun with the recent director of football appointment, finally after a fair old time waiting and asking, putting somebody in control who has the power and will to make things happen for Cork football.
Some points here.
Conor Counihan was clearly a fairly obvious candidate for this in many ways.
He knows Cork football from all angles – club, divisions, player, manager – and will definitely get buy-in from around the county.
He wants Cork football to be as good as it can be as well.
He took the senior manager job in 2008 remember when a lot of people might not have needed the hassle.
A few years back when Aghada were facing a relegation play-off, Counihan was on the line, giving help where and when it was needed. I remember being at a meeting a few years back when Cork GAA were going around the county looking for ideas on what needed to be fixed and there was Counihan, offering passion and ideas at a stage he really didn’t need to be.
He won’t half do this and he won’t allow anybody else in this project half do it either.
The argument that Counihan was TOO close to the plan and it needed a fresh take on things doesn’t quite take into consideration that there wouldn’t be a massive queue outside the county for this job, that it really does need someone from Cork to properly take ownership of making this happen.
There is a valid point that there does need to be other voices from outside the Morgan-Counihan bloodline coming through but this will occur naturally and that from a purely human viewpoint, he’s got an investment in making the plan work seeing as he was responsible for drafting the thing.
There’s been an element in the Man Utd story recently of whether the people making decisions needed to have a connection, whether it was better to have ex-players who’ve got that DNA or better to have expertise in changing the culture of an organisation.
Counihan might well tick both those boxes for Cork.
There’s a bravery element to this by the way, especially when the worth of the work done is pretty difficult to measure.
How do you quantify the job of getting this Cork football five-year plan up and running?
Counihan has a finite contract and it’s very possible, probable even, that what he puts in place won’t be able to be evaluated until he’s well out the door.
Every time the senior team loses a match in the next few years the plan will get some slack even if it’s irrelevant to current results and Counihan is unable to control the small details from game to game anyway.
Can the plan be working if the Cork u20 and senior results don’t improve in another few years?
There’s an element that people know how bad things but there still isn’t unlimited patience in Cork GAA for the footballers and an expectation may develop that results and performances will necessarily lift now.
There are some unique challenges here for Counihan in a vast job remit.
Putting some overall direction into the process of player development from the age of 13 upwards will be one focus, with some really good people and ideas in place across various groups right now but maybe lacking an overall sense of what the priorities are here.
Cork have certainly needed a central control on the physical conditioning side of things for some time (especially from say 17-21) where players might have went through different S+C coaches over several years with different programmes.
Counihan will have control over who decides what sort of physical and technical programmes are in place from these ages, basically what kind of players Cork want to come though here at inter-county level - again a small detail but a huge potential difference.
Club football will definitely be a massive part of the process and Counihan is known to see structures and standards at club level as key.
Mainly there's been a gap in the idea of what Cork football is meant to be about and Counihan mentioned that recently, in trying to restore some element of basic pride in playing and winning for Cork.
There's something stirring with the work done at U20 level and it was fascinating to hear mentors at even u15 level say how a few wins and momentum could shift the mentality to players wanting to be involved with Cork.
There was a time where Cork seniors expected to perform and win, where a positive approach was expected.
If Cork can locate a sense of that positivity in themselves across the ages, where even basic work-rate, mentality and confidence in ability becomes their thing, it'd be a starting point.
We've seen the impact of a good coherent plan, where a club/county just knows what they are trying to become.
Cork have a plan and a man to lead. It's a start.