Cork's fortunes at such a low ebb that the only way is up
Changing the culture around Cork football will be a major task but action is needed
Cork and Kerry players parade before the Munster football final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork last summer. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
When the #2024 sub-committee presented its proposals for revitalising Cork football to the county executive, the senior footballers were training outside on the 4G pitch in the costly confines of Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
It must have been tempting to look out and try to calculate the distance between the January training slog and the highly aspirational targets of the plan.
The county does though have the advantage of being positioned where it’s harder to decline than to improve.
The statistics of that decline since Cork won the All-Ireland in 2010 are striking. Since winning Munster most recently all of seven years ago, the county has been in just two All-Ireland quarter-finals and the last of those was in 2014. There’s more but a litany isn’t necessary; everyone knows.
On the sub-committee entrusted with devising the plan are highly-regarded figures within Cork football and the nuts and bolts of improving structures for development of talent and elite preparation are sensible even if very dependent on recruiting the right calibre of personnel.
But Cork in the past 50 years or so have had, until recently, no difficulty in competing at underage levels – often more successfully than Kerry although that is no longer the case.
Piloting the ideas through the club delegates at the end of the month may be fraught and the financial situation surrounding the redevelopment work on Páirc Uí Chaoimh will be, as feared, a distraction from the day-to-day running of the GAA.
Yet life goes on and pending the thrashing out of final figures on the stadium debt, there is a need to address the urgent plight of football in the county.
County chair Tracey Kennedy has backed up the intention to reconnect the footballers with the Cork GAA public with a bold declaration of the need for culture change.
That will be more challenging. Before the 2007 All-Ireland final, captain Derek Kavanagh bleakly outlined the alienation of being a Cork footballer.
“I don’t think it bothers us any more. We’re just a close-knit bunch and we’re well used to walking out into a half-empty stadium. It doesn’t bother us; we’re playing for ourselves. It might sound selfish but we’re not trying to play for the supporters. We’re playing for ourselves and we want to win for ourselves. Simple as that.”
Addressing football’s self-esteem issues in a hurling-dominated environment will probably take more than five years but it has to start somewhere.