Dissecting the Decade: The changing face of Cork football

75 players. Since Graham Canty lifted the Sam Maguire back in September of 2010, seventy-five players have lined out for the Cork footballers in the heat of championship. Not including the men who contributed to that historic triumph, that’s fifty players who have been introduced to inter-county football on Leeside, tasked with returning the Rebel County to those lofty heights. While the faces have changed, the state of Cork football has continued to regress, culminating in relegation to Divison 3 last April. Although glimpses of a revival could be deduced from this summer’s performances, the latest cohort of footballers have been unable to arrest the decline in Cork’s championship fortunes. A win percentage ratio which stood at 86% at the conclusion of the triumphant 2010 season (six wins from seven games) has trickled steadily to a meagre 53% (24 wins from 45 games). The most recent championship defeat to Roscommon which bookended the decade came almost nine years to the day that Cork stream rolled the Rossies in an All-Ireland Quarter Final. Ten years in a microcosm.

Of the 2010 All-Ireland winning team, only Paul Kerrigan is still fighting the good fight, the remainder of Celtic Cross holders having all left the stage due to a culmination of retirement, injury and the allure of the small ball (or oval ball in the case of Ciaran Sheehan). The departure of Conor Counihan in 2013 along with six of team that featured in the All-Ireland Final against Down, namely Quirke, O’Leary, Canty, Kissane, O’Neill and Sheehan, marked the end of an era. What ensued was a revolving door policy of personnel change, hindering the team’s regeneration and ultimately exacerbating it’s decline.

When Brian Cuthbert was installed as the new Cork manager, he set about introducing new faces to fill the positions vacated by the glut of retirements. Over the course of his two-year reign, he used 34 players, giving championship debuts to twelve newcomers. Tellingly, of the twelve, only Ian Maguire, Ruairi Deane and Stephen Cronin were involved in this year’s championship, while three of the players (Donal Og Hodnett, John Dineen and Cathal Vaughan) haven’t played championship football since his departure. Similarly, of the ten players introduced under Peadar Healy, only Luke Connolly, Michael Hurley, Sean Powter and Sean White seem to be part of the current incumbent’s plans. Gary Murphy, Niall Coakley and Sean Kiely, all handed debuts under Healy, haven’t featured as part of the new regime. While the capability of some of the players introduced under Cuthbert and Healy is debateable, the managerial upheaval has unquestionably proved a deterrent to their development. Thus far, Ronan McCarthy has availed of 36 players, granting a further fourteen championship debuts. Even in his short period at the helm, the turn-over in personnel has been stark, with eight championship players from his maiden season playing no part in 2019.

As a means of reference, Kerry have used 67 players this decade, eight less than their provincial neighbours. While the difference may seem minute, it could be argued that the Kerry team has undergone two different transitional phases, all the while maintaining their vice-grip on Munster. Of the Kerry players involved in the 2014 All-Ireland winning campaign, thirteen of them made their debuts after 2010. Similarly, of the group that almost toppled Dublin last Autumn, a remarkable nineteen of them made their debuts after 2015.

Kerry’s success this decade has disproved the theory that a lack of success is a natural by-product of regeneration. Fifteen Kerry players have made their championship debut in the last two years, demonstrating how the integration and new players can rapidly reap rewards. This bodes well for the next generation of Cork footballers, if harnessed correctly. The national titles attained by the under-20 and minor teams this season, as well as the encouraging displays of the seniors indicates that Cork football is finally turning a corner. The average age of last year’s squad was just over twenty-five and will only get younger as players from those successful underage teams progress to senior ranks.

In 2009, Cork supporters faced into a winter of discontent following a harrowing All-Ireland Final defeat to Kerry. Unthinkable at the time, but those were the good days. Hope has replaced expectancy. But hope there is. After a decennium horribilis, we’ll take it.

Eoin Keane

Cork players in Championship (2010 – 2019)

Paul Kerrigan (Nemo Rangers), Michael Shields (St. Finbarr’s), Aidan Walsh (Kanturk), James Loughrey (Mallow), Mark Collins (Douglas), Alan O’Connor (St. Colum’s), Eoin Cadogan (Douglas), Daniel Goulding (Eir Og), Donncha O’Connor (Ballydesmond), Paddy Kelly (Ballincollig), Colm O’Neill (Ballyclough), Paudie Kissane (Clyda Rovers), Brian Hurley (Castlehaven), Ian Maguire (St. Finbarr’s), Tom Clancy (Fermoy), Alan Quirke (Valley Rovers), Jamie O’Sullivan (Bishopstown), Ciaran Sheehan (Eir Og), Graham Canty (Bantry Blues), Kevin O’Driscoll (Tadhg MacCarthaigh), Noel O’Leary (Cill na Martra), Pearce O’Neill (Aghada), Ken O’Halloran (Bishopstown), John O’Rourke (Carbery Rangers), Fintan Goold (Macroom), RuaIri Deane (Bantry Blues), Ray Carey (Clyda Rovers), Luke Connolly (Nemo Rangers), Stephen Cronin (Nemo Rangers), Colm O’Driscoll (Tadhg MacCarthaigh), Sean White (Clonakilty), Barry O’Driscoll (Nemo Rangers), Mark White (Clonakilty), Kevin Flahive (Douglas), Brian O’Driscoll (Tadhg MacCarthaigh), Thomas Clancy (Clonakilty), John Miskella (Ballincollig), Matthew Taylor (Mallow), Kevin Crowley (Millstreet), Noel Galvin (Ballincollig), Liam O’Donovan (Clonakilty), Killian O’Hanlon (Kilshannig), Peter Kelleher (Kilmichael), Ryan Price (Skibereen), Damien Cahalane (St. Finbarr’s), Eoin Cotter (Douglas), Michael Hurley (Castlehaven), Sean Powter (Douglas), Conor Dorman (Bishopstown), Nicholas Murphy (Carrigaline), Eoghan McSweeney (Knocknagree), Nathan Walsh (Douglas), Derek Kavanagh (Nemo Rangers), Kevin O’Donovan (Nemo Rangers), Cian Kiely (Ballincollig), Sam Ryan (St. Finbarr’s), Niall Coakley (Carrigaline), Sean Kiely (Macroom), John Hayes (Carbery Rangers), Andrew O’Sullivan (Castletownbere), Denis O’Sullivan (Ballinascarthy), David Goold (Macroom), Fiachra Lynch (Valley Rovers), Michael Martin (Nemo Rangers), Donal Og Hodnett (Skibereen), Stephen Sherlock (St. Finbarr’s), Ronan O’Toole (Eir Og), Gary Murphy (Castletownbere), Alan Cadogan (Douglas), Cathal Vaughan (Iveleary), John Dineen (Eir Og), James Fitzpatrick (Carbery Rangers), Ger Spillane (Ballygarvan), Kevin McMahon (Carbery Rangers), Aidan Browne (Newmarket)        

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