FORMER Cork All-Ireland junior football winning manager Paul McCarthy wasn’t surprised by the decision to limit the competition to four teams in the future.
He was a selector with Mossie Barrett and Niall Kelleher, when Cork won in 2009 and 2011, and managed the side to the county’s last success in 2013.
“Over the last four or five years the competition has dwindled away unfortunately with only ourselves and Kerry taking part in Munster in recent seasons. The others pulled out,” he said.
And McCarthy believes Croke Park should have looked at another format before effectively pulling the plug at Congress.
“What disappointed me was that it was a missed opportunity to play the championship on an open draw in the past couple of years.
“You probably would have had about 12 teams and to my mind, it would have been an interesting experiment just to see how it would have worked out.
“It would also have given a taste of what an open draw would be like at senior level some stage in the future, though, I suspect it will hardly come in my lifetime, but you’d never know.”
There was more interest in Connacht and Leinster, though Ulster hadn’t staged a championship in 25 years.
“Connacht started making an effort again and Leinster wasn’t too bad, but overall the number of counties competing just went way down.
“There’s not much point playing a competition in Munster with just two teams in it.
“It’s a competition that you could run off quickly enough because it was always a straight knock-out championship anyway. I can’t see it coming back because there’s no will for it and Croke Park aren’t encouraging it either.
“They’re going ahead now with New York, the British finalists and Kilkenny, but I don’t believe it’s going to last too long, unfortunately.”
The championship may have its critics, but it has served Cork football well in terms of player development, according to McCarthy.
“It certainly bridged a gap for players between U21 and senior, fellows who might not be quite ready to step up and may not have the opportunity, as well. It gave players a bit of grounding.”
And there were very strong links between the senior and junior managements over the years, as well, to reflect its importance.
“Conor Counihan was in regular contact with us and there was great co-operation.
“Before my time, Billy Morgan, when he was in charge of the seniors, had a great rapport with Mossie as well. There was a logical stepping stone for players.
“What stands out and what was the most pleasing aspect of it all was the number of players who progressed to play with the seniors afterwards.”
A classic example was Ger Spillane from the Ballygarvan club. He didn’t play underage with Cork, but made the seniors and was centre-back on the 2006 All-Star team, as well as a member of the All-Ireland winning panel four years later.
“The O’Driscoll brothers Colm and Kevin played for us as did Paddy O’Shea in goal.
“Michael Prout, who captained the team to an All-Ireland, went on to play senior and Aidan Walsh and Ciaran Sheehan also played junior for Cork.
“He was outstanding for us and is now one of the stars in the senior team. Ruairí was a fantastic captain and you couldn’t have asked for better.”
McCarthy recalled some memorable games, including a couple against Kildare and another against Kerry.
“We had some cracking matches. One was the 2011 All-Ireland final against Kildare in Thurles which went to extra-time and we just got over the line.
“The semi-final against Sligo on a famous wet Saturday night, when Dublin played Tyrone in Croke Park, also stands out.
“Our game was the curtain-raiser and we can always boast a junior game had over 52,000 at the match.
“There was another memorable game that we actually lost to Kerry in Páirc Uí Rinn after extra-time in 2017.
“It was unbelievably high scoring (4-24 to 3-20), a right hum-dinger.”