SO, another era in Cork football and this time at least it begins with a sense of purpose.
If the last appointment process lacked a genuine certainty in what it was looking for exactly, this time Cork have moved swiftly and in truth this kind of authority seems more in keeping with the style of the new manager/coach Ronan McCarthy. In simple terms, McCarthy won a county senior football title last year (something none of the last three Cork senior managers had achieved by the way) and has recent experience at inter-county level.
In slightly more detailed terms, Cork have lacked direction for an age, McCarthy has shown a willingness and application to provide that and if we’re slack on details on how Cork might attack and defend and kick the ball out and deal with say a rampant Kerry in a Munster final, the conviction argument is worth a go for now.
When we asked three people who’ve been involved recently in groups with McCarthy for their impressions, the first word each used, independently of each other, was strong-minded. At a time Cork have been fumbling around for their place in football and extremely unsure of what it is they’re meant to be doing, you get the impression self-doubt is pretty low on McCarthy’s list of characteristics.
Systems and roles on the pitch won’t be open to a whole pile of debate or wondering if it’s the right thing to do and you can’t imagine much flip-flopping on styles of play. Players won’t be given much leeway on the standards of application necessary or unsure about what’s expected of them. McCarthy will be pretty demanding and ambitious. He laid out fairly early in his time with Ross last year that anything other than a county title would be seen as failure.
When Conor Counihan brought him in as selector back in autumn 2012, he was very strong on targeting a statement win over Kerry as a vital priority and he’ll want to make that breakthrough win over a Kerry or top team as soon as possible.
When McCarthy wrote a few columns for the Examiner this summer it was notable to see references to how he hadn’t really understood Cork’s confidence problem until he was deep in the middle of it, how the lack of a big win over the years had created a negativity around the group and it’s gotten worse in the two years since. Expect an awful lot of work on getting the players to believe, on reinforcing positivity in the group.
McCarthy was known for keeping a certain distance from the players but they were motivated to make an impression consistently. I remember seeing Douglas in first round of championship 2008 and almost knowing from their demeanour they were on a mission to a county final. It was hard to locate any uncertainty in Ross last year. McCarthy will want honest players he can trust on work-rate and doing the right thing.
Other hints can be picked up from recent jobs. McCarthy was heavily hands-on as a coach with Cork when involved previously under Counihan and Cuthbert and players spoke quite highly at the time of his technical skills knowledge and impressive drills.
Players with Ross last year referred to a strong emphasis on skill development through drills work also; one or two players mentioned how by the time of the county final they’d actually noticed a real improvement in some of their link-up play and ball movement that’d happened almost without them noticing.
McCarthy put focus on the team attacking games as well, encouraged players to get forward into the attacking zones rather than bodies back in defensive areas; again they racked up big scores, killed off the county final by not stopping to drive forward when ahead and even their game-changing goal came from a willingness to attack purposefully with the ball.
Defenders may be trusted to defend one-v-one rather than playing sweepers. Forwards will be expected to work but they’ll be expected to win games too and you could see again from his description of John O’Rourke that he values creativity as well.
There are plenty unknowns of course and the lengthy to-do list is for another day. McCarthy was a coach under previous Cork management, the main man in Douglas and Ross (where he still did quite a lot of the actual on-field coaching work) and it’ll be interesting to see both who he brings in as selectors and what sort of delegation goes on with working with players in training and tactical work.
Ger Lane has been quite strong on having a coach as the lead and that dynamic of being the guy making the big decisions and the guy in the middle of the drills and games will be a challenge. Names like Anthony Lynch or Graham Canty would be obvious calls for several reasons.
The three-year term gives some leeway for trying players and ideas out and the approach to league 2018 (all-out rush for promotion or player/system development) will give an indication of the kind of immediate ambitions here.
McCarthy doesn’t necessarily have to reach a last eight in year one but he may not see it that way himself and what makes a good season is likely to be self-imposed. We’ve spoken previously of the tactical demands now and this weekend in Croke Park will outline the level of detail to take on Fitzmaurice/Harte/Rochford/Gavin.
Cork aren’t considered in that league these days but their new manager may well think differently and they ought not lack for bloody-minded boldness for the next while. If Cork football needs a coach to believe in they’ve got a coach who believes for starters.