All still to play for at two grades for Cork football
Minor and Under-20 teams are eyeing All-Ireland glory starting on Saturday
Cork players celebrate winning the Under-20 Munster football final. Photograph: Inpho
They’ve still two and possibly three games to play and the chance to leave their indelible mark on the summer, and with that raise the hopes and spirits of Cork football. Only for better or for worse none of those games involve the senior team.
Sunday’s final round of the All-Ireland Super 8s does have Cork facing off against Roscommon at Páirc Uí Rinn, only with nothing left to play for there (both teams have zero points) the result may as well be written in invisible ink. It will have no bearing whatsoever on the final outcome of the Super-8s.
Instead it’s up to the Cork under-20 team, who on Saturday afternoon face Dublin in the All-Ireland final in Portlaoise, and also the Cork minor team, who the weekend after next face Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Although they haven’t won an under-20 All-Ireland (previously under-21) since 2009, Cork still boast more titles than any other county with 11; Dublin last won in 2017 and have only ever won five. Cork haven’t won an All-Ireland minor football title since 2000, but remain the third most successful county in that grade after Kerry and Dublin,
For Keith Ricken, the current Cork under-20 manager who also works as a Sports Administrator at the Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), success at both these underage grades won’t automatically transfer to the senior team, but will help: more importantly he senses a growing positivity about the future of Cork football.
“I’m involved in third level, on the ground as they say, with students, and I didn’t get that sense of negativity as people maybe did from the outside looking in,” he says. “And I see the standard of football, the standard of footballers, the clubs, the structures that are there, the work that’s going on in development squads, all that kind of stuff.
“I think we’ll get a lot out of this Cork team whether we win this under-20 All-Ireland or not. We’ll get a lot out of this current minor team whether we win it or not. We have the right people in place, we’re producing the right kind of guy. They really want to play and if they go to the right colleges and the right schools and the right club format, that’s coming into place under Kevin O’Donovan the new secretary, I think that will come through anyway.
“It’s not necessarily success in terms of trophies. I think that it’s success in terms of reaching very achievable goals and attainable goals and tangible goals that lads can tap into. I think it goes from there then.”
Despite not winning a game in the Super 8s, Ricken is no less optimistic about the future of the Cork senior team: “I know a lot of lads that are playing with Cork seniors, it’s like riding a bike, I mean you can’t unlearn how to ride a bike. You mightn’t become good at it for a while but you’ll eventually get back on it and I think it goes in cycles, when you’re around long enough you see that it does go in cycles. And it’s performance based, as opposed to crisis based.
“Cork is a huge county, there’s more young lads in summer camps in Cork than there is in the whole of Connacht. That's how big Cork is. You also need to put your structures in place. Cork are doing that, they had their [COMMITTEE]with Brian Cuthbert and Graham Canty and Conor Counihan, the Cork county board have put a five-year plan in place. They’re putting their structures in place. Conor Counihan has taken over the development now.”
In the meantime his under-20 team, reckons Ricken, will come through as skilful players win or lose on Saturday: “The purpose of any underage is to make sure that you have enough of people coming through. The winning, what we’ve done so far, is a by-product, and it’s a lovely by-product, but it is only a by-product. The real job is to produce players that want to play for Cork and are capable of playing for Cork, they’re skilled to play for Cork, they’re mentally able to solve their own problem and can play for Cork and physically they can play for Cork.”