What next for the Cork footballers: It will take ambition and huge work to push on

What next for the Cork footballers: It will take ambition and huge work to push on

Cork’s John O'Rourke with Tom Lahiff of Dublin in Croke Park

CORK'S record in Croke Park for the past 10 seasons now reads played seven, lost six and the only victory came way back in 2013 against Galway. 

They gave the hosts a decent game in the first half of the All-Ireland quarter-final loss but couldn't cope with Dublin's conditioning, team play and depth after that.

There's still quite a bit of work to do before the Rebels will be regulars on Jones Road, as they didn't even make it to GAA headquarters in 2016, '17, '20 or '21, let alone show they're capable of taking a major scalp.

Here are the questions Cork fans are now asking.

1. WHO WILL LEAD CORK NEXT SEASON?

Keith Ricken was appointed manager this season despite Ronan McCarthy seeking to conclude the extension he was given after beating Kerry in 2020. The Cork County Board decided a fresh approach was needed, even though it was always going to be a demanding, transitional season, with some raw rookies introduced to the panel and the veterans from the group that reached the 2019 Super 8s moved aside.'

Ricken was an obvious choice for the tough job, given his pedigree with Cork underage teams and MTU Cork.

However, when Ricken was forced to step aside at the end of the league, coach John Cleary took over and made progress.

Crucially, relegation to Division 3 was avoided and, notwithstanding the luck of the draw, a place in the All-Ireland quarter-final was secured. Cleary steadied the ship and filled in admirably for Ricken. He twice came close to becoming Cork bainisteoir before and is hugely respected on Leeside.

Cork manager John Cleary at Croke Park. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Cork manager John Cleary at Croke Park. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Ricken may be in a position to return for 2023. If not, Cleary is the right man for the job.

2. WHAT PLAYERS ARE CAPABLE OF STEPPING UP?

The most gifted young forward to come through the Development Squad system in recent years was Conor Corbett. He was an explosive finisher from the left and right when Cork lifted the 2019 All-Ireland minor crown and was devastating for the U20s in last summer's defeat of Kerry. 

Unfortunately, he was struck down with a cruciate knee injury but, turning 21 next year, the Clyda Rovers club man could be a key addition to what's already a decent forward unit.

Newcestown's David Buckley is also very highly rated and Kanturk dual player Colin Walsh has serious strength for a 19-year-old. Jack Cahalane has already been blooded and Blake Murphy, a playmaker and scorer with the All-Ireland U20s in 2019, did well in the league and came on late at Croke Park.

As defensive options, Tommy Walsh, Aidan Walsh's younger brother, has been fast-tracked into the senior ranks and Aghada's Diarmuid Phelan was outstanding as U20 centre-back last year.

Injuries have been a recurring problem for the Cork footballers and getting the experience and power of Kevin Flahive and Killian O'Hanlon back will be as important and trying to integrate more of the younger crew. Joint-captain and All-Star nominee Seán Meehan made the bench for the All-Ireland quarter-final and will anchor the rearguard in 2023 with a bit of luck.

There's also the question of Mark Keane's future. 

The goalscoring hero from the shock defeat of Kerry two years ago accepted an offer to join the hurling panel after deciding not to return to Aussie Rules but couldn't force his way in.

Might he be open to a switch over to football?

3. CAN CORK BALANCE DEFENSE AND ATTACK?

In their games against top-tier opposition, Cork had to pull a lot of bodies back or risk being shredded. In doing so, especially with Seán Powter sweeping, they were able to prevent Dublin and Kerry from raising green flags. 

Brian Hurley of Cork in action against Lee Gannon of Dublin. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Brian Hurley of Cork in action against Lee Gannon of Dublin. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

However, they couldn't get enough scores on the board at the other end, despite the best efforts of Steven Sherlock, Brian Hurley and Cathail O'Mahony. They never really threatened to hit goals themselves and there wasn't enough of a connection between the front line of the attack and those dropping off to crowd behind the 65.

Cork’s 2022 Championship Scorers 

Steven Sherlock 0-25 (0-17 f, 0-2 45, 0-1 mark); 

Brian Hurley 2-8 (1-0 pen, 0-1 mark);

Cathail O’Mahony 1-6 (0-2 f); 

Colm O'Callaghan 1-1;

John O'Rourke, Eoghan McSweeney 0-4 each;

Kevin O’Donovan 0-2

Damien Gore 0-1.

Cork’s 2022 League Scorers 

Steven Sherlock 1-36 (0-22 f, 1 45);

Brian Hurley 1-22 (0-7 f, 0-1 45, 0-1 mark);

Blake Murphy 0-7; 

John O’Rourke 1-4; 

Cathail O’Mahony 0-4; 

Kevin O’Donovan, Colm O’Callaghan 1-0; 

Joe Grimes, Daniel O’Connell 0-3 each;

Mattie Taylor 0-2; 

Mark Cronin, Fionn Herlihy, Dan Dineen, David Buckley, Seán Powter (f), Tadhg Corkery, Ian Maguire, Rory Maguire, Cian Kiely 0-1 each.

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