IN 1808 Napoleon uttered the words 'winning is not enough if one doesn’t take advantage of success', and you can’t help but think of the Cork footballers when reading the quote.
At this stage Cork have had almost six months to mull over their Munster Final defeat to Tipperary last November. To say it was a missed opportunity is an understatement. They had seemingly done the hard work in beating Kerry in such scintillating style, with Mark Keane’s last minute winner in the semi-final, but two weeks later they just didn’t show up, and Tipp were deserving winners of their first provincial title in 85 years.
Napoleon would have been appalled at Cork’s failure to take advantage of their win over the Kingdom. The confidence that a Munster title would have provided Cork’s young squad, as well as the experience they would have garnered from an All-Ireland semi-final appearance at Croke Park would have been huge, yet it was not to be.
That defeat would have damaged the Cork footballers, and the controversy surrounding Youghalgate, or Beachgate, or perhaps even Watergate, cannot have helped in restoring confidence and motivational levels.
All that must be parked, however, as Cork have a National Football League Division 2 campaign to navigate in the next few weeks in preparation for another crack at a Munster title.
Their Division 2 South opponents are Kildare, Laois and Clare, with a potential promotion semi-final being the prize if Ronan McCarthy’s charges can negotiate that itinerary.
Cork managed to scalp Kerry last year, after a season spent playing Division 3 football. It was a superb achievement, but ultimately they proved that playing regularly in the lower divisions does little for consistency levels, as displayed by their showing in the subsequent Munster Final against Tipp.
A potential major talking point to Cork’s opening league tie against Kildare in Thurles is the fact that they will be up against Kildare boss Jack O’Connor, who must at this stage be approaching PhD status in terms of preparing sides to face Cork football teams, due to his Kerry days.
He did not tear down any trees in his first year in charge of the Lilywhites, so there will be a lot of expectation of an improvement in performance levels this year, starting with the league opener against Cork next weekend.
Cork’s preparations for this league campaign suffered a major setback with the announcement that midfielder Killian O’Hanlon and defender Aidan Browne both suffered cruciate knee ligament injuries in recent weeks meaning they can both be expected to miss the entire league and championship campaigns.
O’Hanlon, in particular, will be a major loss, as at 28 years of age the Kilshannig man has matured into a top inter-county midfielder, and his partnership with captain Ian Maguire was blossoming into one of the finest midfield units in the country. His absence, of course, presents someone like Kanturk’s Paul Walsh or Douglas’ Brian Hartnett with the opportunity to nail down a place for themselves on the championship team during this league campaign, but for a side crying out for experience and leadership it is certainly a big loss.
Unfortunately, the injuries to O’Hanlon and Browne are the latest exhibits that would suggest that there is something lacking in the strength and conditioning, and general fitness training, area of the team.
Mallow’s James Loughrey will not be a player that McCarthy can call upon for the upcoming league campaign either, as the 34-year-old has retired from inter-county duty. He was a key member of the Cork defence that qualified for the Super 8s in 2019, but injuries meant he did not feature for Cork in last year’s curtailed championship.
Given that lack of experience and leadership in key defensive positions was such a major problem in the Munster Final loss to Tipperary, the Antrim man’s departure from the panel will be keenly felt.
The likes of Maurice Shanley, Paul Ring and Sean Meehan will have to learn to lead in this respect despite their youth and relative lack of experience at inter-county level.
No disrespect to opponents Kildare, Laois and Clare, but anything less than a top two finishing position in Division 2 South, which brings with it qualification to the league 2 semi-final, would have to be viewed as a hiccup in the development of this young Cork side.
Arguably the biggest stumbling block to achieving this aim is the fact that the Rebels have no home ties to bank a win or two due to the previously mentioned Youghalgate. Cork would be expected to take four points from league encounters against Laois and Clare, but the fact that the games are in Portlaoise and Ennis may make the ties that bit more slippery.
Failure to secure first or second place will mean a relegation semi-final instead. The difference between playing off for a place in Division 1 rather than playing off to avoid the drop back to Division 3 is obviously huge.
And given the journey that this Cork team has been on in recent years, you would imagine it is vitally important that they do not even entertain the idea of dropping back down to Division 3 this year.