Minor win a signal that major changes can come for Cork football

Derek Daly looks at the promise shown by the Rebels in recent weeks, which only proves the county has underachieved on the football front lately 
Minor win a signal that major changes can come for Cork football

Cork minors Shane O’Connell, 17, Olan O’Donovan, 15, and Darragh Gough, 22, celebrate after their side's victory over Kerry. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

IN January 2019 the sub-committee established by the Cork County Board to develop a long-term plan for Cork football published #2024 – A Five-Year Plan for Cork Football.

That five-year plan is almost three and a half years of age now, so now is as good a time as any to assess how it is progressing.

Obviously, any five-year plan in recent times will have a rather large Covid asterix next to it. When the entire country was in a huge lockdown matters such as clear player development pathways and high-quality coaching fairly went out the window, but nonetheless, structures were put in place to improve the fortunes of Cork football.

For instance, we are in the middle of the fourth minor championship since the publication of the plan, and the results in these championships have been extremely encouraging. The All-Ireland was won in thrilling fashion against Galway in 2019 and Munster titles were garnered last year and this year, with the hope being that this year’s vintage can push on towards All-Ireland glory.

This compares extremely favourably with the previous decade, which saw Cork’s last Munster triumph at minor level being as far back as 2010, so all concerned can immediately point to improvements in that regard. Indeed, the last minor All-Ireland had been the one won in 2000, so that was instant gain there.

At U20 level there was also All-Ireland success in 2019, against Dublin in Portlaoise, which had ended a 10-year gap without All-Ireland success at that grade for Cork, even if they had finished as runners-up in both 2013 and 2016. The Munster title was also gobbled up in 2021 and only for injuries to the likes of Conor Corbett they might have well gone on to All-Ireland glory.

One of the goals of the plan was that “Cork will be regular All-Ireland contenders in all grades of inter-county football, including club championships, within three to five years”. 

In terms of underage football the plan would appear to be working. We are, however, still waiting for that to kick in at senior level.

One of the big moves made by the County Board was to get the best people from within the county to manage Cork’s underage teams. There can never be any guarantees in this regards, but the likes of Keith Ricken, Bobbie O’Dwyer and Michael O’Brien have done impressive jobs in preparing Cork’s emerging young talent.

Other goals of the plan included ‘a county championship structure which supports this work will be in place within three years’ and that has certainly been achieved, with all clubs getting multiple games at their requisite level, while having the jeopardy of promotion and relegation.

Another goal was that ‘Support for Cork football and the profile of our inter-county footballers will grow significantly within one to two years’ and in this case it has to be stated that the plan has fallen short, as there is no way you could argue that either the support for the Cork team or the profile of its tops players has improved in recent years.

CORKNESS

The plan specifically called out that it was seeking “to address another major concern in relation to Cork football: the growing disconnect between Cork supporters and Cork football teams. To increase support for our teams, we must reignite the passion of our people and re-engage their support.

"This engagement must be delivered with a new brief; to develop Cork football as a live and vibrant brand and to restore that sense of ‘Corkness’ in our supporters.” 

The lack of results has meant that this ‘goal’ has had to be put on ice. No senior Munster title since 2012 and flirting with relegation back to Division 3 certainly are not conducive to ‘Corkness’.

Back in 2019, there was a sense of the rest of the country having a snigger in Cork’s direction over this ambitious plan and the use of terms such ‘Corkness’, and while we still seem some way from witnessing a Cork captain climb the steps of the Hogan Stand, there have definitely been positive steps forward for Cork football.

It might just take a bit longer than the envisaged five years is all.

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