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Is this the most Important Appointment in Cork Football History?

By Sam Curtin 

 

There is no doubt that Cork football is at a crossroads. Despite plenty of underage success in recent years, the senior side has failed to follow suit. With the women’s side taken care of after the appointment of Shane Ronayne. Attention turns to their male counterparts. With the potential championship restructuring also on the horizon, the future of Cork football is uncertain.

What is certain is that there are at least two candidates in the running for the job. The first being John Fintan Daly who has nearly 40 years experience coaching Cork and Kerry clubs. His most recent and perhaps notable work being his success with Knocknagree, a tiny rural club in West Cork. Daly has led the side from Junior to Senior in the space of four years picking up an All-Ireland along the way in 2018. 

The key attributes that he would bring to the job is his immense knowledge of the club scene in Cork and would hopefully be able to make full use of the county’s natural resources and find a few hidden gems in the process. From his recent success with Knocknagree, it is clear that he can get players to play above themselves and the current quality of the Cork senior side arguably at an all time low, JFD could be the man to turn its fortunes around.

There may be question marks about whether or not he has done it at a high enough level. Daly’s only previous managerial stint at county level was with the Cork Under 21s where he delivered an All-Ireland however that was in the early 90s. The game has evolved massively since then but he does seem to have been able to change with the times based on recent results.

The second candidate is perhaps the most high profile to apply for the job. Keith Ricken has achieved immense success with the Cork under 20s in the past three years, winning an All-Ireland in 2019 along with two Munster titles. Some of the players that he has helped develop are beginning to make their mark at senior level such as Cathal O’Mahony and Sean Meehan. From speaking to players who have worked with Ricken, they speak very highly of him, especially his man-management skills and how he can galvanise a team of young players and mould them into leaders. His emphasis on people is clear with his work as a games development officer in CIT proves that he knows what makes young people tick and the challenges that they face.

Like Daly however, there are question marks facing the East Cork man. It is still unclear as to whether he really wants the job as initial reports suggested that his preference was to stay with the under 20s and had to be convinced by the clubs to let his name go forward. Would Ricken actually be wasted at senior level? Inter county football is ultimately a results business with an emphasis on short term goals rather than making players for the future. There is obviously a far greater degree of pressure that comes with the job and Cork supporters are fickle at the best of times. At present, Ricken is the perfect man to have in charge of the conveyor belt with players such as Conor Corbett looking like its only a matter of time before he makes it at senior level. Therefore, it is a difficult choice to have to make.

It is not only the managerial appointment that needs to be looked at however. Matters on the field must improve and that starts with the players. It has been a case of one step forward, two steps back since 2019 when Cork made the super 8s. Since beating Kerry in 2020, performances have declined considerably with the lack of an evident game plan and ponderous attacking being a real cause for concern. What is especially disheartening is the lack of fight on display against Kerry in this year’s Munster final in Killarney. Once Cork conceded the first goal which put them three points behind right before the break, the game was essentially over and from there things went from bad to worse, ending in a record 4-22 to 1-09 defeat.

With that in mind, the first thing the new manager has to do is establish an identity that the players and supporters can buy into. One that is young, open minded and will play for the jersey and not collapse when the pressure is put on. One could argue that a rebuild is necessary with some of the current crop may need to be shown the doras to make way for the next generation. We have seen with the five year plan for Cork football which was published in 2019 and led by All-Ireland winning manager Conor Counihan but it doesn’t mean anything unless it leads to success on the pitch. 

One would imagine that the immediate goal will be to get out of division 2. As we have seen in recent years, the gap is growing between the division 1 sides and the rest. Therefore it is crucial that the rebels are playing regular matches against the top teams which is not something they have had in recent years. With one of the proposals up for discussion later this month entailing the possibility of linking league and championship, it is critical that Cork are competing at the top table. With the size of our county, there are no excuses not to be.

Overall, Cork football is at a critical crossroads, with the hurlers showing signs of life again, football could be put on the back burner by supporters and it is essential that this doesn’t happen. 2010 was the last time Sam Maguire came home. However, if the right manager is put in place with a buy-in from all parties, you’d be surprised as to how quickly it could come back again…