Cunningham: 'Cork hurling starving for All-Ireland success'
By John Harrington
Ger Cunningham admits that Cork hurling badly needs an All-Ireland win in the near future to justify the hard work that’s being done behind the scenes to revitalise the game in the county.
It’s now 14 years since Cork won a senior All-Ireland title, 21 years since they won an U-21 (U-20) All-Ireland, and 18 years since they won a minor All-Ireland title.
It looks like the conveyor belt of talent in the county is now more productive than it has been in quite some time, but Cork teams are still falling short of the ultimate honour.
Their minors were fancied to win the 2017 All-Ireland Final but were pipped by Galway, and last year's loss in the All-Ireland U-21 Final to a Tippeary team they'd hammered in Munster was a very bitter pill to swallow.
This year’s U-20 team fell to another narrow defeat to Tipperary in a classic Munster Final last week, but on Saturday have the opportunity to make amends against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final.
And Cunningham admits it would give hurling in the county a serious boost if they win that match and then go on from there to end the county’s famine for an All-Ireland title.
“When you get to that stage, it’s all about winning,” said Cunningham.
“At least over the last couple of years, we’re back at that level competing in finals whereas we hadn’t been in a while. This team would have been the one earmarked that there was a lot of good players in it.
“OK they won Munster last year but lost the All Ireland, this year it’s in reverse, losing Munster but they still have a really good chance.
“From a supporter’s point of view, to go on and win something, win a trophy, would bring a bit of ‘Corkiness’ back again. Everyone likes to win something from that point of view and we’ve been starved for a while.
“For everyone’s confidence, and there’s a lot of hard work being done, people put a lot of effort in there. They’d like to see reward at the end of it, and we haven’t had minor success or U20 success or senior success for double-digit figures.
“You’d just like to see reward at the end of it, and that reward for the public and supporters would be trophies.”
Cork’s lack of success at all levels for the best part of two decades was attributed to failings in their underage coaching structures, but this has since been addressed and Cunningham is hopeful the weight of numbers of talented hurlers coming through will eventually tell.
“Yeah there’s some very good young fellas coming through. This U20 team is very good. I think there’s some very good players coming through.
“There’s a lot of talent there, you got to see a lot of matches. There’s some fine hurlers coming through. I had this group at U15, development squad. There’s some very good players. This group’s minor team has some very good players as well.
“But again it’s a big step. The minor is at 17, there’s some 16 year olds, and U20. There’s still a bit of a gap there if you’re going onto senior, if you’re not fully developed.
“Look at (Kilkenny hurler) Adrian Mullen, how developed he is from a physical point of view. To be able to take that step up, the way the game is being played.
“When you get to this level, quarter-final, semi-final, how physical the game is. You’ve to be able to take the big hits. You have to be well advanced to be able to take them as well.”
It has been suggested by some that Cork teams of recent years haven’t had the sort of natural toughness and physicality of Kilkenny teams because of how the game is refereed at club level in the county.
Cunningham believes that theory may be a valid one.
“That’s being said and I suppose at time you’d go to games and you’d see the freetakers taken off with 10 or 12 points to their names so I suppose you’d like to see the referee to ref it a little less.
“You’d get frustrated at times when you go to games, there’s a lot of technical frees being blown. It’s only when you go up to Croke Park, and you look at it last Saturday, the aggression that Kilkenny brought to the table, the difference in the games even at the weekend, the physicality, it’s a different kind of game and it’s only when you go there that you realise ‘oh there’s a difference here’.”