Time to ask the hard questions about leadership in Cork football
By Peter McNamara
How deep are the problems within the Cork football sphere? And how is the code expected to compete with hurling, soccer and rugby on Leeside when its senior representative team are in such a precarious state?
These were two questions that washed through my mind on Sunday night.
The real problem is that both of those questions have actually gone unanswered for years.
How can a county that has contested five of the last 11 All-Ireland U21 FC finals find itself losing to Clare at senior level in 2017?
As we all know, of course, success at the U21 grade doesn’t necessarily mean senior progress will follow. Yet, it’s obvious the quality throughout the county is being mismanaged.
That is honestly not to sound disingenuous to the Banner because under Colm Collins they are progressing very sweetly indeed. Clare deserved to defeat the Leesiders by eight points, too. They sniffed the Leesiders’ vulnerabilities and pounced.
Therein lies the Rebels’ primary issue, though.
This was not Martin Daly 1997 all over again. The Banner were not fortunate to record their 2-11 to 0-9 victory. The hosts could even have won by more on Sunday.
On present form, Cork are 14th out of 32 teams in the four sections of the Allianz NFL.
Sitting in sixth position of the second-tier following four rounds of matches was hardly expected on Leeside, however.
I have two related theories as to why Cork are currently a shell of what they should be, though.
First of all, the management team does not inspire confidence. They are too inexperienced to thrive in this particular arena, it seems.
Their body language on the sidelines also suggests a group not entirely sure of themselves and the decisions they are making. Obviously, they will refute that thought-process.
However, often it’s easier to appreciate the workings of a situation looking from outside the wire and they appear to lack for conviction, particularly when games are going against or away from them.
Their inexperience, of course, would not be as great an issue if it was evident by now that tactically they can compete at this exalted standard. Unfortunately, however, that is not the case.
In fact, it’s apparent Peadar Healy and his selectors are unsure of what their best team is.
Granted Healy and his lieutenants could roll out the ‘We see directly how players are going in training and pick our teams accordingly’ line.
And, to a degree, they would have a valid point.
Nevertheless, how, for example, can they justify having a player of the quality and finesse of Mark Collins starting last Sunday in a substitute’s role? Is Collins off the pace on the training ground?
Ditto Colm O’Neill. Why has the Ballyclough man not been a regular starter?
Well, those are some of many questions people in the county would like to pose to Healy however, it’s important to remember he is borderline loathe to entertain the media.
While we are on this subject, is it acceptable that Healy sends selector Eoin O’Neill out to face the music post-match, especially on the day that was in it?
Fronting up to the fourth estate in Cusack Park would have represented a move that would have garnered the manager more respect.
Yes, O’Neill has obviously been detailed to liaise with the media on a long-term basis. Still, Healy would have done himself far more favours with the Leeside supporters if he made sure he was the one to stand in front of the mics and dictaphones given the severity of the result.
They call it leadership.
Healy, for the record, could well be the nicest man in the world and there is even a sense of guilt at having a pop. After all, he and his management team are the men putting in their spare time into trying to enhance the playing group’s output.
Come on though - it’s time the hard questions were asked.
In defence of Healy and his selectors, nobody should lay the blame entirely at their doors.
The reality is the players championed their appointment. Well, some did at least. Or so we are led to believe.
Now, though, the players are either as puzzled by what is expected of them as the supporters are or they are simply too comfortable subconsciously in the present situation.
Either way, it’s a recipe for disaster.
I would like to think the players are not a divided bunch for one reason or another but, on occasion, you do wonder if they are singing off the same hymn sheet themselves.
The group that won the All-Ireland title in 2010 were an extremely close-knit crew both on the field and in their personal lives. Are this particular bunch as close? Maybe they are even closer than their 2010 predecessors. However, when performances are as they are, it’s possible the opposite is the case.
Regardless, it definitely looks as if something is amiss with the entire set-up.
Cork’s fixture on March 19 at home to Meath is an opportunity for the Leesiders to prove doubters wrong.
Yet, it’s just one of three opportunities they will have in the secondary competition between here and now to show the public the forthcoming Munster SFC should be a challenge Cork will relish.
Currently – and probably for the first time I can remember certainly, folk by the banks of the Lee are far from convinced the Rebels will even reach a potential provincial final against Kerry.
And even those that do trust in the team’s capacity to arrive at that point are growing increasingly fearful of the possible hammering Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s outfit could dole out.
People on the ground are truly worried about where Cork football is headed.