Making Cork fitter and harder to beat must be new manager’s aims

Making Cork fitter and harder to beat must be new manager’s aims

Luke Connolly of Cork of Cork is tackled by Seán O’Shea of Kerry in Killarney this summer. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

THE identity of the next manager of the Cork footballers has yet to be revealed, and there are never guarantees you'll getting such appointments right, but one thing is for sure, that it was definitely time for a change.

Ronan McCarthy certainly had his positive moments in charge. The last-second heroics against Kerry last year was undoubtedly the highlight, but there were others, such as the promotion back to Division 2 last year and the decent Super 8s campaign in 2019, but the wheels have come off since, and Cork football needed to go in a different direction to get back on track.

A major positive was that McCarthy blooded a lot of the 2019 U20 All-Ireland winning crew in the past couple of seasons. The new manager will be able to benefit from the fact that a lot of them are either up to speed at inter-county level already, or at least are fully aware of the levels they need to get to.

It is this bunch of players that the next manager is going to have to rely upon, along with some of the slightly older players, who would now be deemed to be in the leadership category, such as Sean Powter, Kevin Flahive, Ian Maguire, Ruairí Deane and the Hurley brothers.

Due to this process of reinvigorating the team we can also expect a few ‘senior’ players to not be part of the plans going forward. That is just a natural process of an inter-county team. Nothing personal. Time moves on.

McCarthy’s reign was a topsy turvy one. It started off extremely badly in 2018 as Cork were destroyed twice in the championship, by 3-18 to 2-4 against Kerry and then 3-20 to 0-13 against Tyrone.

Ruairí Deane saw red in Killarney but remains a key Cork leader. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Ruairí Deane saw red in Killarney but remains a key Cork leader. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

2019 was the best championship year under McCarthy’s tenure when they qualified for that year’s Super 8s, where Cork were extremely competitive when going down in Croke Park to both Dublin and Tyrone, but the big asterix that year was the fact that earlier in the year they had been relegated to Division 3.

And then in 2020 promotion was secured back to Division 2, a seismic victory was achieved over Kerry in the Munster semi-final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, only for the wheels to come off in the Munster Final against Tipperary.

Unfortunately, for the past few years Cork football has been in almost a constant state of leaping one step forward only to quickly shuffle two steps back. There was little sign of this trend changing under McCarthy, despite all best efforts, so a different approach is certainly needed.

One thing that must happen is that Cork must have an identifiable way of playing, as one feature of the McCarthy reign was that from year-to-year Cork’s approach would shift, and unfortunately not always with positive results either.

Cork went from being overly exposed at the back in 2018, to trying to rectify that failing in the 2019 league only to be relegated when trying to implement this conservative approach. A change of tack brought improved results for that year’s championship, but by 2020 and 2021 the big scores were being shipped again. That was seen by the 0-17 conceded last November against Tipp, the 0-22 shipped against Clare, the 0-25 against Westmeath and ultimately the 4-22 Kerry plundered in the Munster final rout, which brought an end to the McCarthy reign.

Former Cork manager Ronan McCarthy. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Former Cork manager Ronan McCarthy. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Of course, the next Cork manager will be hoping that he will get something that McCarthy was never able to enjoy, a squad with a clean bill of health. The amount of injuries suffered by Cork footballers in the last decade has been eyebrow raising and continuously raises questions as to why this keeps occurring at such alarming rates. One of the main objectives for the new management team will be to get fitness levels up to the required standard to be able to tackle the likes of Kerry, Dublin, Mayo and Tyrone, but to do this without breaking the players is arguably the greatest task of all.

Getting a healthy side on the pitch, making Cork’s recent underage medal winners integral parts of the side, making Cork hard to beat, on both sides of the ball, and getting back up to Division 1 have to be the immediate priorities in terms of improving the fortunes of Cork football. If the new manager can achieve those then you would expect that positive results in the championship will soon follow.

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