CORK GAA take note.
In the end, it comes down to the same whys and the same hows.
José Mourinho’s sacking this week might have seemed worlds away from Martin O’Neill’s recent end in terms of expectation and talent levels at their disposal and scale of impact and yet it’s hard to escape the feeling that more than the defeats themselves or the fall in placings on tables/rankings or the petty infighting, that what did for them eventually was people (supporters, general public, players) simply weren’t enjoying it anymore.
Ok, it was worse, people were either actively bored or wretched or disengaged.
Irish soccer games had become a kind of penance for fans, a sense of desperation waiting for something to happen.
Man Utd fans weren’t looking forward to matches, were uneasy through games and could hardly enjoy goals or wins in the knowledge there was nothing sustainable being created.
The players just didn’t believe anymore, the entire thing had become a joyless existence with Ireland and United and there are lessons to be learned here in what happens when you forget that the whole meaning of sport is to provide fun experiences, to build something enjoyable and entertaining and yes of course, about winning and losing as well.
Managers got sacked of course as they always do and if that’s not exactly comparable with Cork then there are more interesting aspects to note here.
Firstly, both failures had that sense of something rotten in the structural background that wasn’t completely the manager’s fault – Irish soccer is basically paying the price for years of doing nothing to halt the reliance on English clubs for the development of players; Man Utd are a shambles of a club with nobody who really knows what they’re doing in the football-related side of things for some time involved in decision making.
There’s a sense in both cases that the ordinary folk aren’t happy to let things slide anymore and it isn’t difficult to draw a line from this kind of rising to the feeling in Cork now, where people want accountability on say the talk of cost overrun on the new Páirc (was anybody really surprised by the revelations last weekend?) or want to know exactly how the people in charge plan on bringing Cork to a place where being involved in playing and watching games is something to enjoy again.
One key shift is that there happens to be a real opportunity and perhaps hunger, at last, to make a proper difference now, Kevin O’Donovan’s step-up into the head role is seen as a worthy, potentially game-changing move, and it would be something certainly if a connection could be created again between Cork GAA and the general GAA population out there who are only looking for something to get behind.
Small details but something like the wonderful idea that GDA Colm Crowley went with recently with the games for over 30s on the 4G pitch over several weeks, a social GAA event that allowed ex-players tog out and kick or puck around again with no stresses of results or performances.
Something like bringing national league games down to Clonakilty or out to Mallow and making them occasions people might actually want to go to (Sunday afternoons in Páirc Uí Rinn can feel desperately dispiriting) might be another tiny move towards creating a feelgood element to following Cork footballers again.
Mostly though it was fun or lack of it for players and supporters that did the damage.
It was striking certainly to watch someone like Marcus Rashford, a naturally bright type of attacking player, reduced to arm-waving and head-shaking and constant little frustrations in each game and just blatantly not taking any pleasure from the act of playing for the club he’s been at since the age of seven.
It gets tricky here in the balance between fun football and winning football and the connection between and importance of both.
I remember speaking with one player who retired from inter-county football a few years ago and he described the increased pressures of modern football (blanket defences, etc) as wearing eventually and how it’d been harder to find enjoyment as the years went on with Cork.
When Cork lost to Tyrone last summer one message from a coach involved in Cork football wondered if some players could come to keep coming back to such negativity on the side.
There are differences in outlook too in what’s fun and what’s necessary to win games at the elite level.
When Donncha O’Connor retired last year he spoke of a meeting where management was asking for a certain kind of commitment and some players were pointing out that they had to have a life as well; O’Connor referenced it as part of being a Cork footballer who wants to achieve something but it could easily be used as an example of the increasing pressures of being an inter-county player.
We spoke to Donagh Wiseman recently on his time with Cork U15s and he was big on the need to create an environment where the players wanted to come training and playing and to learn, that they weren’t too bogged down by pressures and could just come to express themselves and be part of the group.
In the aftermath of that Tyrone game last year Ronan McCarthy said he knew what needed to be done now and within weeks there were plans in place for strength and conditioning work to be done over the winter.
Paul Kerrigan has mentioned about a lot of defensive focus (necessary obviously) in training already. It sounds like a grind but maybe it’s just what needs to be done in making Cork footballers able to compete and win again.
And hopefully become a fun team to play in and watch again.
We’ve seen how important that can be.