IT would be remiss of us not to start this week’s column with an acknowledgement of the work done by Kieran Kingston, who has opted to decline the offer of a second term as Cork senior hurling manager.
Appointed in the wake of Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s decision to step down at the end of 2015, the Tracton man took on a role that didn’t look all that appealing in the wake of the heavy All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Galway.
His first year brought just two wins, against Galway in a relegation play-off and at home to Dublin in an All-Ireland qualifier, but that proved to be the hard yards necessary in order for the effort to bear fruit in his second season.
The importance of that Galway win was shown as the league was used as a springboard in 2017, with a number of young players introduced to the panel. Even so, three good wins were probably unfairly overshadowed by the quarter-final loss to Limerick and so, as the championship dawned, Cork were nobody’s favourites.
Away to the All-Ireland champions Tipperary in the Munster championship opener, few gave Cork a chance, given that they had meekly lost to the Premier County at the same stage in 2016, but an incredible day in Thurles saw a 2-27 to 1-26 win recorded.
Even then, it was seen as being a better result for Waterford than for Cork having Tipp out of the way, but it was shown to be no flash in the pan as the Déise were beaten in Thurles too and then Clare were defeated in the provincial final, sparking joyous scenes among the Rebel faithful.
That day, July 9, marked exactly a year since Cork had lost to Wexford in the qualifiers, providing a perfect reference to illustrate the magnitude of the turnaround Kingston had effected.
Kingston is proof that nice guys can succeed, with two All-Ireland medals as a player standing alongside his managerial achievements. Always unfailingly courteous in press engagements, he did his best accommodate the media, something which isn’t always present among those involved on the intercounty scene.
He certainly leaves Cork hurling in a better shape and, with the levels of young talent emerging, the senior job is an attractive proposition for those in the frame to take over. As county chairman Ger Lane pointed out though, with those brighter prospects come greater expectation and pressure, but one would hope that the man appointed is able to deal with those types of external factors.
As good as the 2017 campaign was, there is unfortunately no guarantee that 2018 will be as successful, with eight counties capable of challenging at the business end of things. This year, that meant two of the top sides exiting proceedings before the All-Ireland quarter-finals, but as yet we don’t know what exact format will be in place for the coming season.
It will all be decided at the special congress to be held next weekend. Primarily, the biggest decision will be as to how the provincial championships are to be run, whether a round-robin format will be introduced or if they remain as they are.
If the proposal to have two conferences is endorsed, then we will have a system similar to the current All-Ireland camogie championship, with the group winners going straight to the semi-finals and second place in each group playing third place from the other group in the quarter-finals.
However, if we remain with knockout provincial championships, then one would imagine that one of the proposals from Cork and Dublin are adopted. Dublin are essentially suggesting that we return to what prevailed in the mid-2000s, with all provincial finalists seeded in an eight-team quarter-final round against four sides which have made it through from the qualifiers.
Cork’s proposal differs in that after the provincial championships they would be a ‘super eight’, similar to the football championship. It would definitely provide more top-quality games and also retain the historic cachet of the provincial championships, though the flip side on the club scene is that teams with county players on their panels wouldn’t be involved at all during the months of high summer.
But, then again, would that be much different from the status quo?