Keith Ricken must adapt his attacking brand of football at senior 

Derek Daly looks at the style of play which reaped a reward for Keith Ricken at U20 and why it won't automatically translate to the elite level
Keith Ricken must adapt his attacking brand of football at senior 

Cork’s Tom Walsh celebrates winning with teammates after the U20 win over Kerry last summer. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

THE new Cork football management team has finally been revealed with the new regime likely to bring a fresh positive vibe back to the county footballers.

Keith Ricken’s appointment has to be seen as a boost for Cork football. Anyone who has heard one of his pre or post-match speeches will be aware of what an inspiring speaker he is. You would assume that every member of the Cork panel next year will certainly be approaching the campaign with a positive frame of mind anyway. 

One of Ricken’s mantras is that he develops players as people first and that developing the footballer just follows naturally after. You would think that this should certainly aid in terms of developing a bunch of leaders within the panel, something that is badly needed.

Ricken’s teams always play an attractive, exciting brand of football as well. The football played when winning this year’s Munster Championship was breathtaking at times, and who will ever forget the unbelievable manner in which his side won the 2019 All-Ireland against Dublin?

He clearly encourages his players to play what is in front of them, to back themselves, and to trust their instincts. This can only be a good thing, but it did mean that his U20 sides often played with an air of naivety, that simply will not cut it at senior level.

This year’s U20 side conceded scorelines of 3-11, 3-10 and 3-10 against Kerry, Tipperary and Offaly, with these large concession rates finally catching up to them in their semi-final defeat at the hands of the Faithful county. Concede that many goals at senior level and you’re going to find yourself in a lot of bother.

Another aspect of Ricken’s management of the U20 side is that they effectively played this year’s championship without an identifiable kick-out strategy, with the result being that Cork’s All-Ireland ambitions were fatally wounded. Cork goalkeeper Gavin Creedon kicked only two short in that defeat to Offaly, meaning that a massive 37 restarts that he launched that day were contestable. 

And despite seemingly having a significant height advantage Cork only managed to retain possession on 15 of those 37 drives.

That means that Offaly had 22 attacks that stemmed directly from Cork’s own kick-outs. With a stat like that it is almost surprising that Cork only lost by five on the day.

There may be times where a goalkeeper should risk going long, such as when attempting to get the ball beyond a particularly aggressive high press, but in this day and age it seems inconceivable that an inter-county side would still persist with a main tactic of just launching it long and hoping for the best.

When Kerry dismantled Cork in this year’s senior Munster final they only attempted four long/contestable kick-outs over the course of the 70 minutes plus. This compared to Cork’s 23 contestable restarts, with Cork winning only 10 of them back. 

It was like they were playing two different sports.

This would indicate that Ricken’s U20 side had a fairly similar approach to retaining possession from kick-outs as outgoing manager Ronan McCarthy had. That is something that will certainly have to change, if Cork are going to make any progress under the new regime.

And that’s where the rest of the management team will have to earn their stripes. James Loughrey, Barry Corkery, Micheál Ó Cróinín and Des Cullinane will bring their own unique voices and expertise to proceedings. 

It will certainly be interesting to see what Peter Keane’s brother, Ray Keane, brings to the table, after he steered the Barrs to a county title three years ago, but possibly the most fascinating appointment is Castlehaven’s John Cleary as coach.

Cleary really should have been appointed as Cork manager back in 2013, but for whatever reason, his face didn’t fit at the time, well, in the eyes of those in charge of Cork GAA at the time anyway. 

He had been involved in eight Munster U21 victories by then and two All-Irelands, with half of them being as selector and half as manager, and in any other county in Ireland that would have been an obvious succession.

It did not happen, but here we are in 2021 and Cleary has joined Ricken’s managerial team as coach. That is two U21/U20 All-Ireland winning managers as part of the set-up, which can’t be a bad thing.

It remains to be seen whether Ricken and his managerial team have the right stuff to turn Cork back into genuine All-Ireland contenders. 

However, you can pretty much guarantee that Ricken will do one thing: bring a sense of genuine positivity back to Cork football.

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