PEADAR Healy’s two-year reign as manager of the Cork football team ended, as expected, with defeat by Mayo in the All-Ireland qualifier.
In fairness the Naomh Abán native went out on his shield with Cork going down fighting on the night.
There will undoubtedly be a clamour for the return of Billy Morgan to the set-up in some form or another in the next few months, while the majority of Cork football supporters would also welcome 2010 All-Ireland winning coach Conor Counihan back to the hot seat with open arms.
John Cleary, Micheál O’Sullivan, Sean Hayes, James McCarthy, Ronan McCarthy, Ephie Fitzgerald and Paudie Kissane are other Cork men who will be mentioned as potential replacements for Healy.
Outside the county names that would be whispered include Cian O’Neill, who would probably be unlikely to abandon his Kildare project so soon, Jason Ryan, who made his name with Wexford but had a tough time of it at Kildare, aand Donie Buckley, who has had successful stints coaching both Kerry and Mayo seniors.
While the name Jack O’Connor has also been bandied about the place, even though it is incredibly unlikely. Former Laois bainisteoir Peter Creedon, a Cork native from Rosscarbery but domiciled outside the county bounds, and Mayo supremo James Horan are other unlikely names on some fans wishlists.
Whether the successful candidate knows ‘Da Banks’ off by heart or not should not be the deciding factor in giving them the job. Ultimately the county board has gotten the manager of the Cork football team wrong two times in a row now and they can ill afford to make the same mistake a third time.
We must be practical though. There is no point focusing on the above external ‘candidates’ as we all know that the board is not ready to go outside the county yet.
In saying that the right man has to be picked now, or else Cork football will be looking at a whole decade in the wilderness. The board has been guilty of cutting corners in terms of costs in recent years, as proven by the debacle that was the Cork football panel painting a makeshift gym up in Fermoy late last year.
The looming arrival of the Super 8s for next season’s championship should focus the collective mind in this regard, as to miss out on qualifying for the financially lucrative Super 8s will hit the pocket of the board hard, as it would mean missing out on bumper pay days down in the new Páirc. It actually is in their own best interests to loosen the purse strings and provide the “right man” with the resources he needs to drive Cork back to the top table of inter county football in this country.
The ‘right man’ has to be someone with a clear vision as to where Cork football will be in two or three years, and they must have a coherent plan as to how they are going to get there.
This involves how Cork are going to set up both defensively and offensively. They must have well thought out structures in place that make the Rebels an extremely hard team to play against once more, as in recent times Cork have been an attackers dream to play against.
While Cork do try and play ‘positive’ football they always leave themselves too open at the other end. Pragmatism is required in this regard. No one is calling for Ulster type tactics here, but even the likes of Eamonn Fitzmaurice and Jim Gavin have had to put the brakes on Kerry and Dublin’s attacking instincts in recent years in order to make themselves harder to beat.
Cork too must go down this route.
Cork need to be clever in all facets of play. While Cork have an easily identifiable style of play, in terms of a running possession game focused around hand passing, and kick passing up the wing into the corners as opposed to the diagonal ball favoured by most other counties, they can still learn from other successful counties too.
Against Mayo in the qualifier defeat in Limerick there were signs of an actual kick-out strategy for the first time all year. Give the team a whole year to bed in such a strategy where Cork almost guarantee themselves possession from their own kick-outs and straight away Cork would be on a par in the possession stakes with the likes of Dublin, Kerry, Tyrone and Mayo.
The new manager will also have to come in and trust his players. It was plainly obvious that Healy did not know his best starting fifteen all year which resulted in constant chopping and changing in terms of personnel from match to match. Of course, the players most vulnerable to this type of indecisive selection approach are the younger more inexperienced players on the panel, with the obvious outcome being that their confidence suffers.
This year saw players like Peter Kelleher, Ian Maguire, Kevin Crowley, John O’Rourke, Stephen Cronin and Mark Collins going in and out of the team from one week to the next. If Cork football is to revitalise itself then it is these players who must do the revitalising. To damage their confidence is to damage Cork football going forward. They must be trusted and made feel they are Cork’s future because quite simply, they are.
Cork football would appear to be at a crossroads right now, and they can go one of two ways. They can appoint someone with no proven track record at the highest level and risk continuing down the same road they have been on for the past four years, or they could go all out to put the best man in place, someone who all the panel can buy into, someone who can make people proud of Cork football once more.
Ultimately John Cleary should have been given the job four years ago, and he absolutely definitely should have been begged to do the job two years ago. If the Castlehaven man wants the job at this stage then it should be his, and on his terms too.
If he wants the job then give him his own selectors, as well as all the necessary finances and facilities a top inter county manager requires, and not just a field down in Fermoy.