BEFORE Cork played Limerick in the league quarter-final in early April, Kieran Kingston spoke about the process of beginning to build the house that he and Cork wanted to create, brick by brick, row by row.
The foundations had already been put in place by then, with Cork having won three of their five Division 1A matches. The previous weekend, Cork had impressively beaten Tipperary in Páirc Uí Rinn. They were going into the quarter-final with form, momentum and confidence but, while the house was taking shape, Kingston was fully aware of how much construction still lay ahead.
“We’ve put the foundations in place and are starting to build the walls,” he said. “Tipp have the house fully-furnished. We haven’t even got to the roof, never mind the furniture.”
After Limerick beat them, some of the walls looked to have caved but the structure of the house was strong and solid. Not many expected it to survive the Tipperary hurricane in the championship but by the end of the Munster campaign, Cork’s house was the only one still standing. And much of that credit has to go to Kingston.
Was it a surprise that he has stepped away? The dogs on the street knew that his departure was a possibility.
The players were aware that it could happen but they hoped that it wouldn’t. When Alan Cadogan stated in the Echo last week that the players wish for Kingston to stay on also reflected “the viewpoint of everybody, I believe, the County Board and the wider Cork public” he was right.
The local expectation everywhere after Cork’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Waterford was that Kingston would remain in charge. The natural reaction when he didn’t, particularly after a hugely encouraging season in which a young Cork team won a Munster title against all the odds, is to speculate that something must have happened to spark Kingston’s exit. That speculation was further increased when the manager declined an offer from the county board to extend his term in charge.
It was assumed that sticking points may have emerged in the negotiations with the board. Yet, in an amateur game, where the role of an inter-county senior manager has never been more demanding, Kingston’s departure boiled down to one basic reality – work commitments.
Those commitments are often increased when the manager in question works for himself, especially when it involves a lot of travel, mostly to Germany.
The counter-argument is that the board could have been more proactive in ensuring Kingston stayed on. Would another county, in a similar position, allow their manager to walk away in those circumstances?
Yet sources close to Kingston say that he had his mind made up. Any sticking points could have been ironed out if he really wanted to remain in charge.
It’s also easy to forget what Kingston has given to Cork this decade, having been involved in five of the last six seasons, three under Jimmy-Barry Murphy, one of which, in 2014, when Kingston served as coach.
With his son, Shane, also heavily involved now too, Kieran may have been more comfortable to let Shane off on his own, free of any potential burden a son may have felt with his father as manager of such a high profile team.
For all the critics who say that Kingston should have stayed, that he almost had a duty to try and finish the construction of the house, walking away now says a great deal about Kingston, and the genuineness of his reasons for going.
The easy, and attractive, option would have been to stay, especially for the long haul. Despite the disappointment of how the season ended, this is a team on the move, especially in such an open championship. With so many talented young players due to come on stream in the next 18 months, the Cork job is one of the most appealing out there.
Kingston and his management had initiated a very successful development squad model, a system should really benefit Cork in the next couple of years. Kingston would have been fully aware of how much work was still left to do but, with such strong backing behind him, from players to board to the Cork public, Kingston wouldn’t have had the same pressure already piling on other inter-county managers.
Cork managers were always judged by All-Irelands but considering how those terms and conditions have changed in Cork over the last decade, Kingston’s legacy will be viewed as a positive one.
Last year was a write-off, which accentuates even more what Kingston and Cork managed in 2017. A Munster title was glorious redemption but there were a number of different achievements bound up in that success for Kingston. As well as rebuilding the team and introducing some brilliant new players, Kingston also returned Cork to their traditional values, which saw the team produce some brilliant attacking hurling.
Success breeds success. The crowds will always return when a team is winning but the verve and panache and quality they played with brought that Corkness back to Cork as a county.
The machine was rolling like never before this summer In the end, Kingston and Cork didn’t win the All-Ireland but the very fact that Cork were disappointed that they didn’t further underlines the magnitude of what Kingston managed in 2017. At the outset of the season, Cork were second favourites for league relegation, and weren’t considered, even amongst their own, as All-Ireland contenders.
When he took over as manager in 2016, Kingston knew what his brief was – to rebuild the Cork house. The construction is still a long way from being fully finished but Kingston certainly was a good foreman in getting the project to this point.