Pat Mulcahy says unity among Cork hurling people is key if Rebels are to progress

Outgoing Cork coach/selector sat down with The Echo for a Q&A to discuss the campaign
Pat Mulcahy says unity among Cork hurling people is key if Rebels are to progress

The 2022 Cork senior hurling management, from left Kieran Kingston, Diarmuid O'Sullivan, Noel Furlong and Pat Mulcahy. Picture: George Hatchell

How would you assess the year?

We won nine of the first ten games between pre-season and league. Every team has a dip throughout the course of the season but ours came at a point where it was difficult to turn it around just before we played the All-Ireland champions. The lads eventually did by beating Waterford down in Waterford when no-one gave us a chance.

Inconsistency kicked in again against Galway so it was very disappointing. It was similar to what Waterford experienced after the highs of the league final and struggling to regain momentum for the remainder of the year. If the inconsistencies can be ironed out, then there is success ahead for these lads.

Bad results can result in negativity, was that an eye-opener?

I kept away from it as best I could. I’ve seen it as a player as I was once told by a coach that I didn’t have the legs to play at senior inter-county level so I’m resilient enough to ignore it. But when we’re in-season, I could feel the impact in and around the group. In particular after the Limerick game, some of the stuff was difficult to comprehend.

When your sister is texting you asking you if we’re able to cope with the negativity, then it can’t be great out there. But as I said, I deliberately stayed away from all social media, newspapers, even The Sunday Game during the championship.

That must have been difficult?

Look, it comes with the territory unfortunately and I’ve seen it as a player, however it's far more intrusive nowadays. For example, Kieran highlighted after the Clare game the impact the negativity was having on the players.

Some people said he should not be bringing this up but the players are human being just like the rest of us. Anyone that tells me that players won’t be affected by this is just not being honest. John Kiely has spoken out very well about players being impacted by this kind of negativity in the past.

The league final loss to Waterford was followed by losses to Limerick and Clare, did that lead to pressure being felt within the camp?

As I said, it was a difficult time to turn it around as games were coming thick and fast against the best so it was hard to rebuild confidence.

To be honest, you’d understand the national media stuff as they’re a bit removed from Cork - it’s more soundbites than anything personal. But what did hurt was the negative reaction from former Cork players, in particular those who have platforms on podcasts and social media. Some of that stuff came across as unhelpful and as having an agenda behind it.

I couldn’t get my head around why people that understand the challenges - and privilege - of playing for Cork would forget so easily and have a go.

Cork manager Kieran Kingston celebrates with Darragh Fitzgibbon after the Munster SHC win over Waterford in May. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Cork manager Kieran Kingston celebrates with Darragh Fitzgibbon after the Munster SHC win over Waterford in May. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

What do you mean by agenda?

Look, social media and podcasts are part of society nowadays and I enjoy listening to some of them in the off-season. For example, the Kilkenny lads - Paul Murphy and Eddie Brennan, for example - seem to provide real good critical analysis without getting personal. I heard Jamesie O’Connor on Newstalk previewing the Clare match against Wexford, but you can see while he calls it out, he does so in a fair manner. You can feel the Clare passion coming out of him. You have to respect that.

When Eamonn Fitzmaurice is commenting on Kerry in his column, he does so with such balance and fairness, a class act. But in Cork recently, there seems to be a willingness to have a cut off our own without any sort of detailed analysis. A good example - and I wasn’t involved last year so the point isn’t in any way biased - would be the All-Stars last year, when Cork didn’t get any, the first All-Ireland finalists in 50 years.

Now, All-Stars are very subjective by their nature, but it was still a big statement to make by the judges given Cork beat Clare and the best two teams in Leinster and Clare and were the only team over the course of the year to give Limerick a game, in the Munster semi. The argument could be made either way, but you’d former Cork players coming out saying Cork didn’t deserve any, Limerick deserved all 15. Why would you do that, why criticise when our lads are down?

These former players have played for Cork. They’ve walked in their shoes. Why? I cannot get my head around it, it’s like criticising your own family. I remember back in 2004, Donal O’Grady said that, during the War of Independence, more British Army personnel were stationed in Cork because we were the most rebellious county, hence the name. We’re like that in Cork, we rebel but we’re united and strong. Why have a cut off each other?

We used to have that unity amongst our own though. We have great sports people, like my idol Roy Keane, Donal Lenihan, Sonia and so on. They all have a special feel for Cork and have a huge media platforms but never have a cheap shot at their own. Something in the blood.

Donal Lenihan writes extensively Munster over the past number of years. We all know Munster are going through a difficult period but he does so with such detail, consideration and balance. Another class act.

I remember my old headmaster said many years ago, “There are two ways to have the tallest house in the village, either tear the every other persons down or build your one taller.” I get a sense that some of these ex-players get their buzz from tearing other people’s down.

Doesn’t criticism come with the territory?

Yes, 100 percent and the standards must be there and called out if they’re not. Every detail has a right to be challenged, but we had a former Cork player this year talking about how he got off a plane and was going through the match updates on social media and then proceeded to analyse the game on a podcast. How disrespectful is that?

Another analyst accused management of ‘shunning players’. One particular player was out injured for a substantial period of time. Now surely that needed context and if he didn’t know, why would he phrase it in that manner, for effect at the expense of fairness and balanced criticism? I can honestly hand on heart say that all of the lads, while very disappointed when they weren’t picked, showed incredible respect for the team and their behaviour in response to disappointment was admirable.

I have more respect for their behaviours than their hurling abilities because it showed how the behave when times were tough for them. It’s easy when times are good. I was a sub with Cork for four years, so I understand that feeling of not being apart of it. I have huge empathy for players that don’t play on the day of a game. But the stirring up of hysteria with little basis of fact was hurtful because these former players were lads I’ve been to war with in the past.

So what can you do about it?

Only call it out in as honest a way as possible. If it’s unfair on the lads and the group, then I’m not going to sit back and watch it happen even if I’d be accused of being overly sensitive. Class is class.

The only message I’d like to out there is that the GAA is a brilliantly humble organisation in particular at grassroots level. When players retire, from junior B to senior, they fall back into their clubs to give back giving their time voluntarily in administration, coaching and so on. That’s quite unique. So why not park the agendas and support the current group as best as possible without reminiscing for the past?

It’s not the current groups fault that Cork has only won three All-Irelands in the last 30 years. That’s the older generations’ responsibility. We’ve gone from winning every three or four years for 100 years, to one in ten. That’s a similar record to Limerick, Tipp or Clare. Kilkenny are well ahead. This group needs time, we didn’t win an U20 for 23 years.

But whoever is in that privileged position, coaching or in media, we have that responsibility. We’re Cork people, so let’s support and back our own.

And what about 2023?

Well, as you know Kieran has just announced that he won’t be going forward. I’m gutted for the players as, hurling aside, I know how much he has done for them, how much they appreciated that work and how much he genuinely cared for each one of them.

As a person, Kieran is a man of the utmost integrity, incredibly organised and professional. Some of the stuff he’s had thrown at him both publicly and privately – and he isn’t the type to talk about it – has been frankly speaking quite disgusting.

But, it’s too raw to even think about 2023. I thought we changed a lot behind the scenes this year and great progress was made but that’s life. One has to move on. As I said, we’re support staff doing our best for the good of Cork hurling and we enjoy the experience. Either way, I believe the future is very bright for this bunch of players.

The past is the past for the older generation of former Cork players like myself. Time to move on. To have a successful future, it's essential that Cork hurling people support each other.

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