Kingston departure leaves Rebels stranded
Denis Hurley considers the ramifications of Kieran Kingston’s decision not to stay on as Cork senior hurling team manager and considers the options for his successor
With none of the other top counties changing manager for 2018, it leaves Cork at a disadvantage straight away
WITH a Munster championship having been claimed this year after such a disappointing 2016 campaign, the decision of Kieran Kingston not accept a second term does seem surprising and disappointing.
Then again, with Munster set to be a five-way fight next year and with at least three Leinster counties capable of challenging for All-Ireland honours – whatever the format may be, to be decided at special Congress this weekend – it’s understandable that he has opted to leave on a high, as there are no guarantees that the heights of 2017 will be repeated.
Coming into an inter-county job is no simple task, as Kingston himself learned just under two years ago, even with his experience as coach and selector under Jimmy Barry-Murphy in 2012, ’13 and ’14.
In fact, only twice since the turn of the millennium has the All-Ireland hurling title been won a county led by a manager in his first year in charge. The most instance was 2016, when Michael Ryan guided Tipp to glory, and before that it was John Allen in 2005 with Cork (the county’s last senior All-Ireland, lest we forget). What both of those appointments had in common was that they were internal promotions, with Ryan’s accession having been announced a year before it was effected, to allow for a seamless transition. It was similar with Allen, in that he had learned at the right hand of Donal O’Grady in 2003 and ’04, and obviously had an All-Ireland-winning side to work with. Basically, it was just a case of keeping the big wheel turning after it had been set in motion. Of course, when Allen stepped down, the players wanted Ger Cunningham to follow in his footsteps, but the county board opted for Gerald McCarthy and that proved to be the basis for the strikes of 2007 and ’08.
For Ryan, as well as assisting Eamon O’Shea in the 2015 campaign, during which Tipp came very close to reaching the All-Ireland, just losing out to Galway in the semi, he was able to formulate what changes he would make at the helm. It meant that, while 2016 was his first year, he had more of a grounding than many others.
When Jimmy Barry-Murphy stepped down, Tom Kenny expressed the hope that his replacement would appoint his own replacement as part of his management team.
“I know a lot of other counties don’t have it,” he said at the time, “but we’ve seen Tipperary do it now with Michael Ryan taking over from Eamonn O’Shea. Instead of just having someone for two or three years and then going to an
outside person again, it would provide stability.
“Jimmy is gone now and, for all we know, the four selectors are too and there’s nobody really paying close attention to any county championship games. If Jimmy had stepped down and one of the selectors had been anointed to move into the role, they’d be in a position to look at games, watching players at premier intermediate and intermediate as well.
“Whoever takes over, if you had someone like Pat Mul [Mulcahy] or Pat Ryan, if they were interested in taking over in a few years, you’d have them as a selector or in some role. They’d get to know the ropes – they’re good coaches anyway, so I’ve no doubt they’d be good if they got the job now – but they’d see how things worked and be able to formulate their own ideas for when they take over.”
That didn’t expressly happen, but we could see it effectively occurring if John Meyler, Pat Ryan or Diarmuid O’Sullivan are appointed.
O’Sullivan is probably short of the necessary experience required, even allowing for what he has learned in the last two years.
That would leave the two as the candidates for continuity and, to be fair, it’s no coincidence that they are considered the current favourites. Ryan has been involved in the past two years while this year was Meyler’s first as part of this set-up, with a dual role as he took charge of the county U-21 side as well.
Ideally, one of them would get the role and reinstate the others from this year to allow for the smooth continuation of the good work.
The alternative is somebody new coming in with a whole new back-room team, and the necessary bedding-in period required as players and management familiarise themselves with each other – or opt to part ways.
With none of the other top counties changing manager for 2018, it leaves Cork at a disadvantage straight away, with the likelihood of this year being a stand-along rather than a stepping-stone. As a result, it’s a very important decision for the board to make, in order that the graph continues its upward movement.
Kieran Kingston is embraced by selector Diarmuid O’Sullivan as they watch the final moments of the Munster Final between Clare and Cork at Semple Stadium, Thurles last July