That’s the shared view of John Meyler – who stood down as Cork manager last July – and Clare forward John Conlon, who can’t wait for the new season to begin.
He is back in training for a campaign where the Banner squad will be keen to redeem themselves after the massive disappointment of this year.
They started it with genuine All-Ireland ambitions after coming so close to reaching the 2018 final, but under-performed to such a degree in the Munster round-robin that they failed to make the top three.
That excluded them from the All-Ireland race, a setback which later led to a change of management with Brian Lohan replacing the Gerry O’Connor/Donal Moloney partnership.
“It was a very disappointing championship. We went in with high hopes and the management put a lot of responsibility on us to perform again after having a good year (2018). We played well enough against Waterford (Munster first round) but as management and as players, the Tipperary game kind of ran away from us.
“And for the Limerick game, we just didn’t show up – they just blew us off the field. We got things wrong as players and management, we’d all admit that,” said Conlon, who is in Abu Dhabi with the PwC All-Stars.
Clare recovered impressively and beat Cork in the last game, but it wasn’t enough to keep them in All-Ireland contention.
“It’s very hard to get into the top three in Munster. It’s always a minefield and it will be an even bigger minefield next year with all the management changes,” he said.
Lohan (Clare), Kieran Kingston (Cork) and Liam Cahill (Waterford) are the three new bosses in a province which also hosts All-Ireland champions Tipperary and league winners Limerick.
Meyler didn’t seek a third year as Cork boss, handing over to Kingston who returns for a second stint.
“Kieran has gone back in again with a new management team. Ger Cunningham, Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Pat Mulcahy – that will bring a huge emphasis on Cork being competitive again.
“The whole backroom team has been reorganised. That will all be a plus.
“They will tweak one or two things – tightening up the defence. Pat and Diarmuid will bring huge experience to that,” said Meyler.
He points to the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Limerick as the biggest disappointment of his term, recalling how Cork blew a great chance. Their sense of loss compounded by Limerick going on to win the final.
“To go into the last eight minutes six points up and then to lose after extra-time was difficult, to say the least. We never really got it going as well again.
“In 2019, the performance against Tipperary (Munster first round) wasn’t really good enough. Then the performance against Limerick was super. So highs and lows – that was the story of the year,” he said.
Meyler remains a staunch advocate for retaining the Munster and Leinster championships, rather than changing to an open All-Ireland format, but accepts that winning a provincial title is no longer good enough to have a season deemed a success.
A selector under Kingston when Cork won the 2017 Munster Championship and manager a year later when they retained the title, he said they were fine achievements in such a competitive environment, but won’t be recalled as such because of the failure to land the All-Ireland title.
“You’re only judged now on winning All-Irelands. Look at Tipperary this year – they lost the Munster Championship, but it’s forgotten about. Limerick winning it is forgotten about too, even if they were really impressive at that time,” he said.
He expects the arrival of three new managers in Munster to increase the pressure on all counties next year.
“Margins are so tight. We’ve seen that since the new format came in. All five counties will fancy their chances of finishing in the top three next year,” he said.
Clare will hope Lohan’s impact in his debut season will give them added impetus and already Conlon is impressed by the new set-up.
“The last two weeks have been very enjoyable. We’ve done a lot of hurling and played a lot of games against one another. There’s a big panel in at the moment and it’s good to see a lot of lads back playing that maybe had taken breaks for the last few years,” he said.
The Clare panel were frustrated by the drawn-out process to find a new manager and are now determined to make up for lost time.
Conlon said that the players were as much in the dark as supporters, even if the public perception was different.
“You’d get that smile: ‘you’re joking me, you don’t know what’s going on?’ but we didn’t. It was frustrating at the time but it’s resolved now and we have our management team going forward and trying to do the best we can,” said Conlon.
The All-Stars party will play an exhibition game in Abu Dhabi today with Meyler and Liam Sheedy as managers.
In a break with tradition, the 27-strong squad features players from outside Tier 1 counties, including James Weir (Sligo), Edward Byrne (Carlow), Declan Coulter (Donegal), Patrick McKenna (Kildare) and Neil McManus (Antrim).