The launch of the new five-year plan for Cork football was indeed very impressive. Certainly, a lot of thought has gone into bringing forward these ambitious plans by the sub-committee charged with coming up with a blueprint for success that is achievable.
I was able to take a closer look at what is planned for the future over the week-end and if it can be funded there is no doubt but that it will bring about improvement. However, if success is measured in All-Ireland Football titles, then that could be a different matter altogether as there is only one title each year in each age group and it is stating the obvious that there are a lot of counties eyeing the same prize, as Cork each year..
Cork as the biggest county in the country is one of the most successful dual counties and along with Galway is probably the best at promoting both codes equally. For success to happen going forward it will be necessary to divide and conquer as methinks that the “Dual Star” will now be a thing of the past. Aidan Walsh is probably the last of the dual stars with the likes of a “teddy McCarthy” or “Jimmy Barry Murphy” never again to be seen.
Coming up with a plan to win All-Ireland’s is never an easy task and in Cork’s case their biggest stumbling block in all age groups is getting the better of Kerry. The other Munster counties contribute whether knowing or unknowingly to Cork and Kerry success by allowing
the Kingdom and the Rebels to enter more than one team into underage competition. Almost without exception, either two Kerry or two Cork teams will meet in the final, or one from each county with the other four Munster counties cast aside in terms of results with the very odd exception as an examination of past results will show. What this means is that Cork only really need to get the better of Kerry to be successful as if you come out of Munster you are only two wins away from ultimate success.
Therein lies one problem for Cork as without any real effort the underage football sides will reach the Munster final most year’s anyway where Kerry will always provide the opposition. Will it be worth the huge amount of money and effort required to service development squads is one question that needs asking. Also, will parents put in the huge effort now required to play for your county as it is no longer a two training sessions a week job anymore. Players now have to juggle school, club games and home life while being a Cork development player. That was easy enough one time, but now you are charged with looking after yourself in terms of diet, nutrition, gym sessions and a whole lot more, never mind actual performing in training or match days. It is no longer a fun game but is now becoming a way of life for our young stars that choose to take it on.
Has success come at too high a price I wonder as no doubt “Sponsors” TV Stations and the like all want to be associated with winning sides? Cork as a county has a huge well-earned reputation for doing things right. Yes, they have a big debut to service in relation to the development of Pairc Uí Chaoimh, but they have shown plenty of vision now and in the past when they bought the old “Flower Lodge” now Pairc Uí Rinn, so I would have no doubt for the future of the county. They might not win as many All Ireland’s as previously, but that is down to huge improvements being made by other counties, not really a dropping of standards in Cork.
Yes better qualified coaches, more success at Schools level will all help feed into a winning feeling, but I wonder if every club in Cork produced one top class player every year from u14 to Minor in football, or hurling would it be a help or a hindrance going forward as with approx. 250 clubs and only 26 places in each county squad available where would the other 225 players go and how much would it cost to keep them in training?.
Producing better players should be the aim of all clubs in any case but producing elite players capable of winning titles is another matter altogether as any coach will tell you that in underage it is very hard to decide who is better than who so if you produce too many similar players you will have plenty of disappointed players and their parents too, as it is they that do the driving to training and matches etc. For Cork to do better at adult level they should perhaps enter two or more teams in Munster in each age group although as I said previously, the other counties have facilitated this already so helping Cork to do better would not be in their best interest.
Past results will not help future results, but statistics do play their part and if one compares Cork to most other counties, then Cork would be very close to the top end. Kerry and Dublin in Football and Kilkenny and Tipperary in hurling have been the most successful
counties, but apart from a recent improvement in Tipperary football, all three would just play the one code, with just a token amount of time given to the weaker code. In Cork that is not the case and going forward I suspect that Cork will have to become more focussed in football for the football people and likewise the hurling folk will stick to what they know.
Looking through the plan one feels that it is perhaps aimed at other codes that are now making inroads into taking away the better players to play Rugby or go cross-channel for Soccer trials. With the new U13, U15, u17 and u19 National Leagues in Soccer now also to contend with the better players now have plenty of choices other than GAA. All place the same demands to an extent on the players and his parents but youngsters are now having to choose their sport at a much earlier age.
I personally know one player who is a star Athlete, plays with Cork underage Soccer, (was on Kennedy Cup squad this year) and also starred for Cork in the “U14 Tony Forrestal” hurling tournament. He is equally good at football, hurling, soccer and athletics for his clubs, not to mention the county stuff at all, so he will be pandering to many masters, forcing him to choose between codes at an early age, and maybe even suffer player burnout, so getting players to play and stay in the GAA with the promise of playing for your county might not be as easy as it once was. Certainly, all sports are now competing for the same players in many cases and who treats them best will win out sometimes.
The challenges are certainly out there but Cork should not be too worried as they already have a huge supply of talent. Getting that talent to get the better of Kerry is in my opinion the biggest challenge they face as if they can beat Kerry, they can beat anyone. This is of course a personal opinion and those charged with future Cork success are wished the very best of luck. There are huge challenges ahead for all counties, not just Cork, the rewards at the top level are also huge so it will be interesting to look back in five years’ time to see if the ambitious plans as outlined by the committee are achieved.