ANNIVERSARIES in sport are usually a chance to reflect and reminisce with regards to some long-forgotten brilliant triumph or an unforgettable sporting memory, yet sometimes anniversaries can be unwanted, as they can tell an unwelcome tale.
2022 marks 10 years since Cork last won a football All-Star. No, it’s not one to get you reaching for the champagne flutes is it?
Both Kanturk’s Aidan Walsh and Ballyclough’s Colm O’Neill garnered All-Star gongs back in 2012, when Cork bowed out at the semi-final stage to eventual All-Ireland winners Donegal, on a scoreline of 1-11 to 0-16. We did not know it at the time but that game was effectively the last time that Cork took to the pitch as a serious All-Ireland contender.
Therein lies the problem. Cork have not been competitive enough for the past decade. Sure, there have been moments, such as the Mark Keane-inspired last-gasp victory over Kerry in the Munster Championship clash at Páirc Ui Chaoimh in 2020, but they have been few and far between.
We can say for certain that consistency, or rather the lack of it, has been an issue for the Rebels in recent years.
And therefore it is no great surprise that no All-Stars have come Cork’s way in this time, but it is worth noting that is, by some way, Cork’s longest famine when it comes to footballing All-Stars.
The All-Stars officially started in 1971, with Ray Cummins being Cork football’s first-ever recipient that year at full-forward, and 1977 and 1979 were the only two years in the ’70s where Cork went home from the All-Star gala empty-handed.
John Evans and Jimmy Kerrigan received awards in 1983 and then we had three whole years without winning an award until John Kerins, Niall Cahalane, Colman Corrigan and Larry Tompkins all got one in 1987.
The same gap occurred between 1995 and 1999 and also from 2002 to 2006, but those four-year gaps are as big as it got, until now.
When Walsh and O’Neill got their awards in 2012 they were still young men with the majority of their careers still ahead of them. O’Neill had just turned 24 and Walsh was still only 22. Ciaran Sheehan, another member of the 2010 All-Ireland winning team, was also only 22.
Time appeared to be on their side, but for one reason or another, the Cork careers of all of them were cut short or compromised.
That’s all water under the bridge now though. Ultimately All-Stars are not important. They are the cherry on the icing on the cake. But they do represent a clear barometer as to the health of a side.
Obviously, players get All-Star awards on the back of their counties' success, so it really is a chicken and egg scenario. You can’t win All-Stars without your team doing well, and you can’t do well without having players who show the necessary form and leadership to put themselves into All-Star contention.
The great Cork team of 1987 to 1990 had leaders in abundance, with 12 different players winning 20 All-Stars in that glorious four-year period. Though it is worth nothing that the All-Star selectors of the time didn’t seem to think much of the Cork attack of that era, with Dinny Allen, Mick McCarthy, John O’Driscoll, John Cleary and Colm O’Neill all missing out, although Allen did win one back in 1980.
The Cork team of 2006 to 2012 managed to pick up 14 awards, with 10 separate players receiving these awards. We will say little with regards the All-Ireland winning team of 2010 only receiving four awards, which is a record low number for an All-Ireland winning team, although there is no harm in referencing it if it helps develop a useful chip for the shoulder.
Cork clearly have had players of All-Star quality in the past decade. The likes of Paul Kerrigan, Mark Collins and Brian Hurley could have got there with a bit of a run from Cork, but it wasn’t to be. The current side also contains players who could push for awards if Cork were to have a long year, with Sean Meehan, Sean Powter and captain Ian Maguire probably being the most likely in this regard.
Cork football could certainly do with ending this barren spell, sooner rather than later.