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'We need to move on and let this group come through' - Cork's shift away from All-Ireland triumph

Only two players from 2010 final win are named to start on Saturday against Tipperary.

WHEN MICHAEL SHIELDS hung up his inter-county boots last January, it severed another link with Cork’s All-Ireland 2010 winning squad.

He was the fourth player last winter from that success to depart the scene after Alan O’Connor and Ken O’Halloran moved into retirement, while Eoin Cadogan switched allegiances to the hurling squad.

Cork players after the team shot Cork start out in the 2018 championship against Tipperary on Saturday. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

As Cork have slipped in the football rankings in recent years, their struggles have prompted a natural debate as to why their group are not recreating the glories of the 2008-12 era that delivered eight major trophies under the watch of Conor Counihan.

Eight seasons on from that September success and it seems less relevant to fixate on that time frame. As their 2018 opener beckons on Saturday evening, the shift away from that Sam Maguire squad has never been more pronounced.

Aidan Walsh and Colm O’Neill are the only 2010 survivors from the team released to start in this Munster semi-final. Injury rules out Donncha O’Connor and Paul Kerrigan.

After that it’s a different set of players starting out on a provincial campaign in a different era.

“I actually think we need to let that go,” reasoned Ronan McCarthy, in his maiden season as Cork boss.

Ronan McCarthy Cork manager Ronan McCarthy. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Only from the point of view that those players now would be 35 years of age, they’d be retired and we keep looking back at them. It’s time to move on.

“They were a great team and some great players and great leadership. They came through a time when Cork were unsuccessful and persevered and were very successful.

“We need to move on and let this group come through. There’s 30-35 players there. By any definition there’s going to be leaders there but let’s give a chance to emerge and it will.

“It’s not something we sit around talking about and so on.”

The spring saw McCarthy trawl the county and give game time to plenty. Cork used 33 players during the league. Another trio named to start against Tipperary – Stephen Cronin, Walsh and Luke Connolly – were not available due to prolonged club campaigns and injuries.

Luke Connolly with Brendan Rogers Luke Connolly starred for Nemo Rangers in their All-Ireland club campaign. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

A further pair – James Loughrey and Brian Hurley – make the bench after time on the treatment table disrupted their start to the year. 13 of the All-Ireland U21 final squad from 2016 have been part of McCarthy’s plans.

Fusing it all together into a cohesive unit that performs consistently is the challenge. Cork’s league campaign was a mixed bag – three wins and four losses – but that trend of fluctuation has been frequent.

Suffering a convincing Munster final loss last July preceded their best display in two years against Mayo.

“A lot of people are hanging their hat on the Mayo game last year, they won’t be talking about that if we don’t qualify for the Munster final,” stated McCarthy.

“I don’t think people should have been surprised. It seems a lot of the commentary is very extreme. Look there are very good players in Cork. Really, really top players.

“People I suppose shouldn’t have been that surprised by the performance. I think the key thing is, just take Mayo you say, Mayo were able to perform at that level.

“In four big games in a year, they’ll perform like that in certainly three and a half or three and three-quarters of them. That’s an element we have to try to bring to us that every time we go out in a big match, we’re performing at that level or near that level on a consistent basis.

Colm O’Neill celebrates scoring a point Colm O'Neill celebrates scoring a point for Cork against Mayo last July. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“There’s no quick fix either. One of the things I learned from the league, it’s very fine margins. You take the Clare game, the game was 0-12 all with a minute to go. It was a Clare kickout, we had scored. You score and you win there and you’re going up to Roscommon with promotion in mind.

“What happened we lost the kickout, they went down and scored and the next thing, now it was unlikely we were going to be relegated, but you’re still in the mix.

“The goal of it was to give players an opportunity which we did and we have found a couple of players that we’d be really happy with and will definitely have a role to play for us in the championship. The lifeblood of any team is competition.

“The nature of it is there’s always some setback or something different comes at you. We had the Nemo lads not being available and so on. You’ve injuries to players. There’s always something comes at you.

“It never runs smoothly and I suppose it’s having the ability to adapt and dealt with that as those problems come. So far, so good.”

Cork have featured in the conversation of potential bolters into the frame for the Super 8s but that is too far down the road in McCarthy’s view as the presence of Tipperary looms large next Saturday.

“The Super Eights sounds great. Three really good games, one at home, one away and one in Croke Park, playing regularly in the middle of the summer, it’s everything you’d want to be involved in but that’s too far ahead for us really.

“We can only have one focus here. Tipperary are a very good side and they’re very well managed. A lot of teams who make progress do it on a very defensive background, pulling men behind the ball and winning tight games.

“To be fair to them, they’ve gone and done it playing a very good brand of football. When you’ve forward players of the calibre that they have, it’s maybe a bit easier but they’ve certainly done it with a bit of style and a positive outlook in the game.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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