CONOR COUNIHAN WILL be afforded as much time as he wants before arriving at a decision on his future as Cork senior football manager in the wake of yesterday’s All-Ireland senior football semi-final defeat against Donegal.
Counihan’s two-year term of office, that was rubber-stamped in October 2010 after Cork’s All-Ireland senior football triumph, ended after Cork’s 2012 campaign concluded yesterday and he may now be poised to bring his tenure as Rebels boss, which began in February 2008, to a close.
However Cork county board vice-chairman Ger Lane confirmed this morning to TheScore.ie that Counihan will be given time to mull over his future and also praised the Aghada clubman’s contribution to Cork football after winning ten trophies as manager over the past five seasons.
“There’s obviously great disappointment amongst the team and management after yesterday’s loss. Conor’s term has now ended but we’re not going to be making any decisions on that now. It’s up to him to decide in his own time. He has been a hugely successful manager for Cork and that has to be acknowledged. We’ll give him the time he wants and he won’t be coming under any pressure.”
There will still be speculation over Counihan’s future and given his commitments outside of football, it is conceivable that he will depart. Counihan has a young family and a challenging job as CEO of the St Joseph’s Foundation in Charleville, which entails a daily round trip of nearly three hours from his East Cork home.
When he assumed the position for a second term in October 2010, Counihan revealed that a key choice in his decision-making had been the willingness of his back room team to remain in charge with him. Some of those selectors have given long and extensive service to Cork football which could result in them being unwilling to stay on.
Bantry’s Terry O’Neill was previously involved with Larry Tompkins while Dromtarriffe native Ger O’Sullivan and Castlehaven’s Jim Nolan had been selectors with Billy Morgan before Counihan took charge. Peadar Healy, from Naomh Aban, is the last remaining selector while the squad’s highly-rated physical coach Aidan O’Connell, is also involved with Munster Rugby.
Cork manager John Cleary. Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan
If Counihan does call time, the front-runner to replace him would be John Cleary, the current Cork U21 football manager. Cleary was a county U21 selector between 2004 and 2007 when Cork won four consecutive Munster crowns and an All-Ireland title in 2007 against Laois.
He took over as manager from Tony Leahy at that grade in 2008 and has been present ever since in that role. In 2009 he guided Cork to the All-Ireland U21 football title against Down while he has won the past two Munster U21 crowns only to suffer defeat at the semi-final stage against eventual champions Galway in 2011 and Dublin in 2012.
As a player Cleary won an All-Ireland minor football medal with Cork in 1981, an All-Ireland U21 football medal with Cork in 1984 and All-Ireland senior football medals with Cork in 1989 and 1990. The former attacker also won county senior football championship medals with his club Castlehaven in 1989 and 1994, and was part of the club’s management team when they lost out in last year’s Cork SFC final to UCC.
Cleary has strong management credentials and also has the benefit of having worked with a huge number of the current squad when they featured in the U21 ranks. Nineteen of the 26-man panel that Cork had yesterday in Croke Park, plus the injured Ray Carey, have been involved with Cleary at U21 level in recent years. Cleary would also have been used a sounding board for opinion and advice in recent times by the Cork senior management.
One challenge that will face whoever is at the helm for Cork at the start of the 2013 season is the issue of potential retirements. Goalkeeper Alan Quirke, who turns 36 in October, could bring his inter-county career to a close while Nicholas Murphy and Graham Canty have both been involved since 1999 and 2000 respectively which could influence their decisions.