Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Joe Kernan: If counties get structure right, All Ireland future will be bright

Brian Dooher was the last Ulster player to lift the Sam Maguire when Tyrone won the trophy in 2008

It is often said in a sporting context that form is temporary but class is permanent.

Not too many people would argue with this sentiment yet I believe that an even more pertinent philosophy is currently in vogue.

And this is that success can prove temporary unless the proper steps are taken to ensure that it is built upon for the future well-being of a county.

Quite a number of counties in both football and hurling have had fleeting brushes with glory but only those counties which boast fertile structures at all levels and proper long-term vision will be guaranteed protracted success.

When you trawl back over the past 20 years or so, it becomes clear that not too many counties have shared in All Ireland triumphs in both codes.

Kerry, Meath, Tyrone and Galway have claimed the lion’s share of the football crowns while Kilkenny, Tipperary and Cork have by and large dominated the hurling sector.

And one of the reasons for this is that in all of these counties the focus has always been on the future rather than on the present — even though the present in many instances was bringing in the ultimate glory.

It is no coincidence that Tyrone has remained a major force in football for so many years. Even when the Sam Maguire Cup was being welcomed into the county in 2003 and 2005, a lot of very dedicated people were working diligently on preparing development squads, coaching vocational schools sides and assembling minor and under-21 squads so that the success could be sustained.

Tyrone are in the All Ireland Minor semi-finals this year, the county’s track record at vocational schools level is hugely impressive and both St Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon and Omagh CBS have taken delivery of the MacRory Cup in recent years.

The quest to find worthy successors to someone like Sean Cavanagh who shared in MacRory Cup glory with St Patrick’s GS, Armagh before going on to claim minor, under-21 and senior honours with Tyrone as well as becoming player of the year and captain of the Ireland International Rules team is always ongoing within the Red Hand County.

The actual pursuit of glory in some counties is obsessive. When you look at what happened in last Sunday’s All Ireland Hurling semi-final it becomes abundantly clear just why Kilkenny are the red-hot favourites to make it five titles on the bounce next month.

When Brian Hogan and Henry Shefflin were injured at a comparatively early stage against Cork, manager Brian Cody was not only able to bring on two vastly experienced players in James Ryall and Martin Comerford but they went into the precise positions that Hogan and Shefflin had vacated.

Nine times out of 10 when a manager in football or hurling is forced to replace an injured player this entails shuffling his defence, midfield or attack to accommodate the newcomer — rarely does such a player step straight into the actual breach occasioned by an injury.

Nor should we be surprised that Kilkenny are in the All Ireland Minor Hurling Final. Even though All Ireland senior titles have been rolling into the county of late, Cody and his backroom team have been meticulously planning for the future rather than basking in glory.

You certainly won’t hear the term burn-out used in Tyrone or Kilkenny. Nor indeed was it in the Crossmaglen Rangers vocabulary when 13 Armagh titles, seven Ulster crowns and four All Ireland Club honours were collated between 1996 and 2009.

No, nothing succeeds like success. And there is no room for sentiment. An analysis of a successful period in the history of any county will reveal the manager was prepared to draft in new faces to keep things fresh and not allow past individual performances to cloud his judgement of present form.

Four teams remain in the hunt for the All Ireland football crown and three sides have designs on the hurling crown. And while the ultimate honour would be very welcome in any of these counties, laying the groundwork for future prosperity should remain the priority.

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