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Cork's team stand for the national anthem before last year's Munster final.
Cork's team stand for the national anthem before last year's Munster final.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

'Hurling is the dominant sport' - Cork footballers hoping to reconnect with public

Young defender Cian Kiely discusses Cork’s year of “transition” in 2018.
Jan 11th 2019, 6:31 AM 5,549 4

CORK UNVEILED THEIR five-year football plan earlier this week, which contains the lofty ambition of turning the county into regular All-Ireland contenders by 2024.

The decline of the Rebel footballers since their Sam Maguire victory of 2010 has been worrying, while they haven’t made it to the All-Ireland quarter-final stage since 2014.

If the plan proves a success and Cork are competing for All-Irelands alongside Dublin and Kerry five years from now, then youngsters like Cian Kiely, Sean Powter, Sam Ryan and Mark White will be in the prime of their careers by that point.

Kiely, who turned 22 in December, made his senior breakthrough last summer, admittedly during a difficult period for Cork football.

“I suppose it’s been said a lot in the media that last year was a team in transition,” he says. “You had a lot of young people coming in which was definitely needed. There were a lot of people getting to know each other, getting to know the new systems.

“It’s a big transition from U20s up to senior. We definitely have the right manager, coaches, everything in place. They’re doing fantastic work. There’s a lot of training and hard sessions going in. It’s something that comes with time, it’ll build.

“Same with anyway as you gain momentum and keep working, I think it will definitely come around and hopefully we’re going in the right direction.”

The footballers have long felt like second-class citizens in the Rebel County, but hurling’s prevalence was copper-fastened over the last few years as the football squad dropped into Division 2 and endured heavy beatings by rivals Kerry in the Munster championship.

County chairperson Tracey Kennedy spoke on Wednesday about the need to reconnect the footballers with the Cork public and to remove the air of negativity around the code.

“Hurling is the dominant sport in Cork at the moment, obviously with how fantastic the hurlers are doing,” says Kiely.

“They’re obviously breeding players and there’s fantastic young lads coming through and it’s working for them.

“Negativity? I wouldn’t say there’s much negativity as there is just more emphasis put on the hurling. Any negativity that comes, I think it’s more so the fact that emphasis is placed on hurling.

Electric Ireland HE GAA Launch Sean O’Shea and Cian Kiely at the launch of Electric Ireland’s Sigerson, Fitzgibbon and HE championships announcement. Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

“Negativity is part of the game really. Any county, regardless of what county it is, if they lose there’s going to be some emphasis on them losing or negativity around things. It’s kind of part of the game, maybe not a part I agree with but it’s not going to be eliminated either.”

Under the management of Ronan McCarthy, the UCC PE and Irish student is hoping he can build on the form he showed during his rookie year.

“I had been in and out a couple of years beforehand, in training for a couple of weeks and out. Last year was my first proper year of being there for the full year. 

“It’s definitely a huge step-up, but it’s one you definitely want to make. It’s what everyone wants to do and you know it’s going to be a big step-up in terms of intensity. 

“The main thing is being smarter on the pitch. When you’re a minor or U21 you might get away with trying to take on two or three players with your speed or strength. But in the senior you have to have more unity as a team so that’s something you have to adapt to.

Gordon Kelly with Cian Kiely Cian Kiely made the breakthrough for Cork in 2018. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I think that’s the biggest adaptation. It’s not just a case of if you want to be a senior you need to be faster or stronger, that’ snot it. There are different things needed for different age groups. That was the biggest thing that I needed to adapt to, knowing exactly what was needed of me and bringing it to the table.”

Kiely won a Munster U21 medal back in 2016 and says that gave him the confidence he could make his mark at senior level.

“I suppose it kind of did. It’s always fantastic to win a Munster title and something I always wanted to do. I never won one in the minor and it was fantastic to get it in U21.

“I suppose it was a journey really in the sense that since I was playing Cork minor I was always building to hopefully make the senior and each year get better and better and better and depending on who the manager is at senior and what they’re looking for can I give them what they need? 

“Through the years playing with Cork I was always building to hopefully being good enough and that was a stepping stone.”

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