IF hopeful and optimistic haven’t been the natural state of Cork football people for quite some time, then this week has been a confusing one.
More or less everybody with any knowledge or interest in Cork football has been saying for an age now that a plan was needed, that Cork GAA needed to get some strong, independent minds together to hash out some proper ideas on structures that might get Cork going again. Well here it is, as the Cuthbert/Canty/Counihan/Kennedy five-year plan was unveiled: a well-intentioned, ambitious, detailed document (lacking noticeably in waffle) outlining their thoughts on what needs to be done now.
It might have taken inspiration from Dublin’s Blue Wave plan of 2011-2017 – and if it’s anywhere near as successful in implementation we’ll be ok – but generally it’s asked the right questions and focused on many of the correct areas that need massive work. Cork football people are understandably wary but it certainly felt more like a serious take on things than a box-ticking exercise this time.
For starters, it’s a recognition that things haven’t been working, that change is needed (the word change is in the document 36 times just in case you didn’t get the idea) and the psychology shift from actually having these plans out there will be interesting. All areas are picked apart for improvements.
Schools and clubs have been neglected for some time in a coherent form and are targeted for more regular games, more consistent levels of coaching and the idea that a rising standard at schools/ club level across the age groups would impact positively on Cork football in general is a welcome link.
The intercounty teams are referenced by mention of the player pathway and the firming up of how exactly a decent footballer at the age of 13 or 14 can be evolved into a really serious intercounty senior footballer, of how exactly Cork GAA puts the structures in place to allow these elite players basically become as good as they can and want to.
It’s interesting also that the targeting of development of coaches to become involved with Cork teams has been flagged here as a core issue, where there’s an obvious pathway opened up for progressive young coaches around the county at club and schools level who can be mentored into the intercounty set-up with freshness and innovative energy.
They're badly needed to fill a tactical and skills acquisition know-how Cork football has lacked.
Bringing some feelgood back into playing for Cork and supporting Cork football is mentioned as it’s generally been a desperately dispiriting few years with that gloom in the background and the idea of locating this Corkness as an edge is worthwhile. We’re thinking Billy Morgan as a primary example of Corkness in relation to Cork football.
Even if a ‘matchday experience’ sounds a bit, well, corny for anyone who’s ever spent a Sunday afternoon behind the goal down in Pairc Ui Rinn with a couple of hundred others for a game against Louth or Cavan. Perhaps a trip or two down west for league games would help.
Cork football needs to connect with its people again but it’s hard to escape the feeling that the simplest way of doing that is winning and bringing back games with the Dubs and Kerry to excite fans and make them feel they’re part of something worthwhile.
And here’s the thing really. The plan is ambitious (perhaps a touch too aspirational in parts) and touches most key points but the reality is that it’s just talk until it’s made to happen. We've heard rugby people especially mention this idea of developing habits of excellence in a club or team that can only come from actions; culture is something that's done more than something that's said.
Buy-in from clubs and the board and the general football community, in general, is make or break. The appetite for change has to be followed ruthlessly through with some hard decisions, on the gradings and structures of club championships for example, or on the coaching appointments with intercounty teams also.
Ideas on training facilities and hubs for all Cork teams will take some time and work and funding to play out. The plan rightly refers to the need for a project manager to bring every aspect of Cork football together, for a high-performance director to develop the coaching and development of players in the most progressive way possible, for a talent identification manager to protect the ethos and quality control of the academy pathway and all these appointments are absolutely game-changers to get spot on.
There’s a hope that the fundamentals aren’t lost sight of either, that in the end it’s about developing players and allowing basic skills to improve and producing as many good footballers around the county as possible. It’s worth a ponder for example why Cork doesn’t tend to produce pure forwards like David Clifford next door or pure footballers like Diarmuid Connolly, on why Cork’s default footballer seems to be a running half-back/half-forward or an athlete turned footballer rather than a player who looks like he was born to kick a football.
For now it’s a road-map of where Cork would like to get to in the next five years and there are easily measurable targets that will let us know what’s worked and what hasn’t worked. Mention of Cork football over the last several years has generated a certain reaction and there’s just been this sense of grim negativity and hopelessness; this plan wants Cork football to mean something else in five years time.
There are some really good people with some really strong ideas on how this has to go down and who are willing to get involved and make whatever needs to happen become a reality – there’s an awful lot happening behind the scenes as well with ex-players and business people who have interest in seeing Cork football strong. The vision has been laid out and despite ourselves there is hope that this time it might just lead to change.
A start, and that's all we can ask for now.