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A knockout Kerry clash, the open draw versus province debate and club action importance in Cork

Cork manager Ronan McCarthy on the plans for the rest of the 2020 GAA season.

Cork boss Ronan McCarthy with coaches Cian O'Neill and Kevin Smith.
Cork boss Ronan McCarthy with coaches Cian O'Neill and Kevin Smith.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE OCTOBER COMPLETION of the league, the November Munster semi-final against Kerry and a intense schedule of club activity before those inter-county matters.

After months of GAA shutdown, the last few days have brought clarity for Cork football boss Ronan McCarthy and plenty to digest.

He now knows the weekend of 7-8 November will bring a knockout Munster semi-final against Kerry, a throwback to the high stakes that existed two decades ago when he played himself in those matches.

“We played in ’99 below in the Påirc, won that game. We played them in 2000 which was the last knockout fixture, that was a game where we were 11 or 12 points down at now stage, we got back within a whisker of getting through. It really is a mouth-watering prospect the game and the knockout element of it.

“I don’t think it’s something the association should go back to in the long term. It’s been the beauty of the Super 8s, the round-robin system in hurling, players want games. I do think this Cork-Kerry game could be the last knockout fixture ever really of that type in Munster.” 

ronan-mccarthy-and-maurice-fitzgerald-1871999 Ronan McCarthy in action for Cork against Kerry's Maurice Fitzgerald in 1999 Source: Patrick Bolger/INPHO

The knockout format this winter in football doesn’t sit well with McCarthy, he would have favoured an open draw in such a compressed time frame and points to the provincial imbalances that have again been magnified.

“You have to try to put yourself in the shoes of the administrators who were trying to organise it and it was never going to be perfect. My criticism really is they should have treated both codes the same. If there was no backdoor in football, there shouldn’t be one in hurling. 

“My only preference for the open draw was it afforded the opportunity to give all teams a second chance. There is a larger discussion around the provincial championships and that structure and the imbalance that’s there. Let’s say an Ulster team like Monaghan who have four games to win Ulster to a team like ourselves who would have two to win Munster. That imbalance has always been there and it is something that needs to be addressed by the association. Maybe now is not the time in the circumstances that they are operating under.”

A competition that will conclude is the 2020 league. After five wins from five games before the Covid-19 enforced halt to action, McCarthy is glad his side will get the chance to play out their remaining Division 3 fixtures against Louth and Longford.

the-cork-team The Cork team before last summer's clash with Dublin Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“We’re delighted that the league is finishing. We’ve put ourselves into a great position. That said I would have said early on when it looked like no games were going to be played, we would have had to accept that outcome if that was the case. I think it’s something the players deserve, the chance to rubber-stamp our promotion which we’re obviously on the cusp of. 

“Everyone has to accept that none of this is going to be done in ideal circumstances. I think we were so far into it, it’s right to finish it. The one disadvantage is that some teams depending on what position and division they are, have very little riding on the two matches. Take Donegal, Mayo, Tyrone have an awful lot to invest in those two league games whereas Galway for example are practically safe. You were never going to get it perfect though.”

Cork’s club plans were released today with a frenzied programme of activity in store. Six rounds of games across football and hurling will take place between 24 July and 6 September before the knockout stages kick in.

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McCarthy has no qualms with the schedule facing his county players with their clubs, some of whom will face dual commitments before returning to the Cork camp.

the-nemo-rangers-team Nemo Rangers celebrate their 2019 Cork senior football title win Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“Sometimes people don’t understand, it’s not the number of games, it’s what they’re doing in between the games is the issue. The players are monitored carefully, obviously we have a role in that. That’s something we’ll try to keep an eye on as best we can from a distance. Take the Super 8s, you play the match, a highly intense game on Saturday or Sunday, but then you trained very little. You were out on the pitch but it was minimal what you were doing.

“I think the same principle applies now to clubs. Players are going to be playing week after week, you can’t flog them in training. The week break for clubs from a player welfare point of view, that’s to be welcomed. The difficulty is it takes away the one week we might have had, an extra week we possibly could have gained to have six weeks into the Kerry game but their decisions that have to be made and are done with the right intention.

“I think we’ve been quite balanced as a management team in what we’re looking for, everyone gets a fair shot, be it club or county. It appears we have five weeks after players to come back in, you could be lucky or unlucky with teams being knocked out depending on the clubs earlier. The more we have and the more often we have them, the better.

“But if someone said that you could have 10 clear weeks into the Kerry game, I don’t think I would have wanted that either. It can be a very long time for players to be in that kind of inter-county bubble. I’d have liked six, we’re getting five, maybe things might fall our way fixtures wise but we have to live with it now at this stage.”

He intends to use the club championships to run the rule over the form of players with the door open for squad changes.

“People have to take into account that it’s ages away, the (Kerry) game isn’t until the 8th of November. There’s so much football between clubs, getting players back then training with inter-county panels and leagues. It’ll come around quick enough but it’s not the immediate focus.

“We’ve sent the message out loud and clear to our players. We’ve been very consistent as a management that we wanted a proper club championship to be run off. We felt it was important. We expect our players to perform well and be standouts in those games.

“There’s a great opportunity for scouting and seeing how players are developing, players that are in good form could be brought back into a panel. As such it’ll be a new panel on the 14th of September. I’m not saying we’ll have a world of change but it certainly isn’t closed.”

In early May, McCarthy had felt the chances of an inter-county return were fast receding but the sporting landscape has change dramatically since then.

“When John Horan appeared on The Sunday Game and said there was nothing until October, I’d have felt at that stage that it was gone. Everyone’s hope was that players would get back out on the pitch, young people and underage players particularly, that’s happened an awful lot faster than any of us anticipated.

“It appears our numbers in relation to Covid-19 are still very good. If it keeps going in that direction, we’ll have a brilliant game to look forward to. It’s a winner takes all, I think it’ll be a fantastic occasion and if we could get, obviously pandemic dependent, as big a crowd as possible to go into it, you could add to the atmosphere which would be great.”

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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