IT’S only a few months ago that Cork football seemed to have taken a bold step forward.
Granted, there was luck in their late, late victory over Kerry, but when Mark Keane hit the net with the last kick of the Munster semi-final, it was a statement of real intent.
Since then, things haven’t gone according to plan, to put it mildly.
There was nothing wrong with losing to Tipperary in the provincial final. Aside from the 2018 championship clash, there has been little between the counties for some time and both started last season in Division 3.
The problem was that Cork performed so sluggishly in the first half that they were fortunate not to lose by more. I was certain Cork would tear into Tipp, on the basis of the two-week gap between beating Kerry and hosting the Premier.
The competition for places at training should have had Cork lifting when the ball was finally throw in for the match itself. And, remember, Douglas defender Kevin Flahive went from starting in the win over the Kingdom to not even making the bench for the next match.
On that basis, you’d have assumed the Rebels’ A-versus-B clashes were ferocious.
They gave Conor Sweeney and Michael Quinlivan the freedom of the Páirc and lacked the intensity and focus required. Cork took an age to get the ball into their own forward line.
And even if the absence of Seán Powter, and the loss of Luke Connolly at half-time, were factors in the result, Cork should have been so driven to lift the Munster title for the first time since 2012 that it shouldn’t have mattered. Tipp seized the day, on the 100th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, but Cork allowed the Premier to dictate the game.
It wasn’t good enough and the players and management well know it.
Perhaps that was why they ended up breaking GAA rules and holding a ‘team bonding’ session on Youghal beach in early January. Cork manager, Ronan McCarthy, was subsequently slapped with a 12-week suspension last week and the team must forfeit a home league game.
Of course, with the season on hold and McCarthy allowed to return in mid-May, he’s unlikely to miss a huge chunk of the campaign.
The real damage was to Cork’s reputation.
It’s hard to get your head around how the management, which extends beyond McCarthy, obviously, thought calling players together in Youghal, at the height of the Christmas Covid-19 wave, was a good idea.
How did no one in the county board inform them that it wouldn’t fly with GAA fans in Cork, let alone the average Leesider?
It would be utterly naive to think that counties weren’t breaking inter-county training rules before last year’s winter championship. Like Cork, Down have been penalised for January training and there could have been more at it.
The Rebels were caught, though.
And it’ll take some massive displays in the coming months to justify such a mis-step.
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