DEFEAT invariably clouds perspective but it blackens that viewpoint even more when a litany of defeats leads to relegation.
Cork were in the unusual position last Sunday where an impressive victory against Armagh still ended with them going down to Division 3. The mood was inevitably black afterwards but there were some slivers of silver in the black cloud.
It was Cork’s highest score of the campaign; they hit more than one goal for the first time all spring; after struggling to source scores off their own kickout for much of the campaign, Cork mined 2-5 off their own restarts on Sunday.
The most impressive aspect of the win though, was the way Cork fought for it. Everything that a manager would want in his players was visible; heart, character, spirit, attitude. It spoke volumes for the group’s unity while Cork’s second win in three games (their only two wins of the campaign) suggested that the team are finally moving in the right direction.
Ronan McCarthy has worked extremely hard during his time in charge. Despite the pressure that relegation has heaped on him, McCarthy deserves to be given time to see if he can build on the progress the team has shown in their last three games.
The championship may ultimately decide if McCarthy’s sees out the third year of his term in 2020. But whatever happens, Cork already need to start planning for what may happen next.
That’s not demeaning McCarthy, the work he has done, and the work he still plans to do, but Cork football still needs to start looking at the bigger picture down the line. McCarthy may or may not lift Cork in the coming months. He may or may not be the manager next year but, wherever Cork are at by the end of the 2019 championship, the 2020 league, and 2020 championship, Cork still need to try something different with their next appointment. They need an outside voice.
One of the questions asked after this league campaign is who would want the Cork job in the near future? The reality is that there are plenty of outside managers and coaches who would love a crack at the Cork job.
The current Cork leadership at board level are far more open-minded than their predecessors but, even if looking down the line at someone like Kerry’s Jack O’Connor would be too much to take for Cork football supporters, there are plenty of others with the credentials and experience for the job.
In any case, why should Cork GAA people care who manages the county, when they don’t really care about the football team anyway? They should want the next best candidate available.
And if that means a Kerry-man who has won All-Irelands in the past, having sickened Cork along the way, so be it.
McCarthy deserves to be given his time now but, whenever the search for the next man in begins, the pursuit should be all-encompassing. Big-time coaching and managerial experience at the highest level, on the biggest stage, is where Cork need to begin.
There are bigger names out there than Cian O’Neill but a CV should be as important as a name. O’Neill may be in his last year as Kildare manager but he is living in Cork now through his work in CIT.
O’Neill’s CV is extensive; he coached the Limerick footballers, the Tipperary hurlers, Mayo and Kerry before taking over as manager of Kildare. In seven seasons between 2009-2015, O’Neill was involved in six All-Ireland senior finals as a coach. O’Neill has had his difficulties in Kildare; poor championship defeats in Leinster to Westmeath in 2016 and Carlow in 2018, and relegation from Division 1 last year.
But the way O’Neill turned it around last summer underlined how he was able to tap into the vast portfolio of experience he has built up.
Whoever that next man is, even if it doesn’t happen until after next year’s championship, an X-factor appointment would also be a statement of how serious Cork are about their senior footballers.
Looking at what Cork do after McCarthy may be too long-term for many people but the succession planning and culture-building has to start some time. The new county board leadership have already shown as much because their radical proposals to change the county championship structures is part of a wider plan to begin pulling Cork’s inter-county footballers up in the process.
The extra number of games proposed is key in that plan, especially when skill is really developed through competitive matches. And particularly in a county with so many dual players.
Cork will never lack players or talent. For all the talk about Kerry’s five-in-a-row minor crusade, Cork could have won at least two of those All-Irelands.
Yet, if the current championship system doesn’t change, how many of those players will even be playing football in five years?
Players will always struggle to fully hone their skills at the elite level if they are trying to play hurling and football. And skill level has been a factor in Cork’s struggles.
The Cork team which won the 2010 All-Ireland was packed with huge pace, physicality and athleticism, and driven by massive leaders. Yet would that team win an All-Ireland now?
When Jim McGuinness took over Donegal at the end of 2010, Cork were All-Ireland champions. The defensive style he patented was largely designed to stop a running game like Cork. Get bodies back, turn over possession and hit hard on the break.
And teams need more than just pace and athleticism to prosper now.
Cork need to develop more rounded and skillful players. Altering the club system will facilitate that culture in time.
But the next managerial appointment – whenever Ronan McCarthy has done his time with this squad – will need to be a bit-hitter to lead the charge.