CORK hurling fans could be forgiven for feeling that following their team can sometimes feel like an Everest expedition from the first half of the 20th century.
A seemingly impossible quest, with a few agonising near-misses when tantalisingly close to the summit, mixed with some infamous catastrophic failures. We’re 15 years and counting now on Leeside, so it certainly feels like that.
However, recent events around the Cork hurling panel have perhaps resembled what occurred in the preparatory stages of the first successful Everest ascent back in 1953.
Eric Shipton was touted as the 1953 expedition leader, which is unsurprising as he was known as ‘Mr. Everest’ due to two decades of the vast Himalayan experience that he had accrued on multiple expeditions.
No other British climber had his experience in the high Nepalese mountains.
The thing is, many of the British organisers believed that his poor organisation skills and laissez-faire approach to tackling these giant peaks was not conducive to achieving the expedition’s primary goal of conquering Everest before some other country beat them to the great prize.
On that basis, he was stood down as expedition leader and replaced by military man Major John Hunt.
For Shipton it was a devastating blow, with him summing up his demotion in five words after leaving the relevant meeting: “I leave London absolutely shattered”.
The move was a cruel one to such a servant of British mountaineering, but it was a necessary one, with Hunt proving the perfect leader in 1953 as Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made history by being the expedition team members that summited in May of that year.
There ends the history lesson, but the similarities between the expedition and the current state of Cork hurling are now surely becoming apparent. Sometimes, in order to move forward in any walk of life you have to be cruel to certain individuals who probably deserve better.
In recent weeks veteran Kanturk keeper Anthony Nash retired from inter-county duty, and very quickly the news broke that Conor Lehane, Aidan Walsh, Christopher Joyce, and Chris O’Leary would not be part of the Cork panel in the new year.
There could well be others culled before the National Hurling League commences in 2021, but the message is clear, that the Cork hurling management are looking to introduce fresh new faces into the set-up.
You could probably make an argument for retaining any of these departed players on an individual level.
Lehane is still young enough and easily skillful enough. Walsh brings that physical edge Cork is so badly missing but something had to change, so the changes have to be welcomed, even if they are harsh on some great servants to Cork hurling.
Sean Twomey, Daire O’Leary, Ger Millerick and Shane Barrett have all joined the panel, as well as Blackrock quartet Niall Cashman, Tadhg Deasy, Alan Connolly and Daniel Meaney. We can expect more movement on that front on the back of this year’s U20 All-Ireland Championship performances, as other young Cork hurlers put their hands up for consideration at senior level.
If anything you could argue that these moves come a month or two too late. Only a matter of weeks ago these players were not considered good enough for the panel with the net effect that the Cork bench seriously lacked depth in the white-hot heat of championship action.
It was bizarre that a county like Cork had little or no forward options on the bench for the game against Tipperary, meaning that Cork threw away a winning position against the Premier County late on. If the likes of Deasy and Connolly had been available to spring it might have changed that result.
And while the introduction of all these new faces has to be viewed in a positive light it probably does not matter who is in the panel unless there is a complete overhaul in terms of how Cork play. This naïve belief that Cork can simply bamboozle other counties with devastating skill, speed, and ‘Corkness’ is bordering on ignorance at this stage.
Cork teams have been outfought, outworked, and outthought for a decade and a half now. There still is plenty scope for skilful stick passing and running hard at defences but winning puck-outs, rucks and learning effective tackling techniques are probably the priority for these new faces.
Cork’s mushroom, laissez-faire approach has failed to get Cork to the top. It is clear now that a more regimented approach is required if Cork hurling is ever going to find itself on top of the hurling world ever again.