BY JOHNNY CAROLAN
THE recent Cork County Board annual convention saw Kanturk’s Francis Kenneally elected as PRO, succeeding Joseph Blake, who stepped down after the completion of his term.
The Adrigole man leaves satisfied with how his three years have gone, acknowledging that it was an immersive experience from the start.
‘You start off and there’s no honeymoon period,’ he says.
‘We were thrown in at the deep end as there was an interview published the day before the county board convention in 2018, Peter McKenna talking about Páirc Uí Chaoimh. You’re in the firing line straightaway.
‘You look back and 2019 went well with a sense of normality but, obviously, at the start of March 2020 Covid hit and other things took priority. Instead of doing PRO stuff, you’re looking at spreadsheets and cashflow forecasts and trying to keep the lights on – or, rather, literally turning the lights off so as not to be running up the bills!
‘There’s a sense of satisfaction and a small bit of achievement, too. There were great days with Cork teams – underage teams won All-Irelands in both codes and there were five in total.’
While one might have an idea of what to expect in the job, it’s really only when it starts that the scale becomes apparent.
‘You can’t prepare!’ Blake laughs.
‘It’s nothing like what you might expect – well, maybe it is a small bit but you’re caught by surprise on a regular basis.
‘Often, what I used to do was, before I’d go to bed, check what would be in the paper the following day to see if there was anything I should know about!
‘You’d get phone calls saying this or that was after breaking and I remember in 2019 I would have had a lot of dealings with the analysis teams for the senior hurlers and senior footballers, you’re trying to get footage from TG4 or RTÉ or whoever.
‘That’s something you wouldn’t have expected and I was on the CCC [Competitions Control Committee] too, so you’re constantly looking at spreadsheets trying to work out fixtures.
‘Nothing can prepare you and you just go along with it as best you can.’
Like anything, there were good and bad aspects that Blake encountered.
‘I’ll miss the matches,’ he says, ‘it’s all about the games.
‘In the run-up to big matches, there’s a great sense of anticipation and then going to Croke Park – there’s something about being there, especially being on the pitch on All-Ireland final day.
‘It’s something everybody dreams about as a youngster – alright, I was never going to play but when you’re there at quarter past three on All-Ireland final day and you’re there in the middle of field looking around, it’s a long way from Adrigole to Croke Park! They’re the things you miss.
‘What won’t I miss? The 20-30 hours a week I was putting in doing the role and the constant phone calls.
‘It’s 364 days a year – I remember taking a phone call at 9am on St Stephen’s morning in 2019, there was a McGrath Cup match a few days later and he needed a team for the paper!
‘Even this year, one of my uncles died in the lead-up to the All-Ireland hurling final and obviously you’re trying to deal with that but you’re still getting constant phone calls and messages from people, giving out about this, that and the other.’
Not that Blake’s departure from county board activity means that he’ll be taking a break from the GAA.
‘I’m PRO of Adrigole and secretary of Beara,’ he says.
‘Obviously, next year is a big one for Beara, the 25th anniversary of winning the county championship in 1997, so hopefully we’ll do a few things around that.
‘If Marc Sheehan, the new PRO Francis Kenneally or Kevin O’Donovan picks up the phone and asks me if I can help out with X, Y or Z, I’ll do what I can do.
‘The priorities are with Adrigole and Beara, but if anyone needs a helping hand, I’ll always be available.
‘Away from GAA, I’ll hopefully play a bit more golf. The handicap index is going up instead of going down!
‘Also spending more time with friends or family – there were nights out or weekends away that they’d be going to and you just have to say that you have a match or a meeting.
‘They’re the sacrifices you have to make at this level. They’re the sacrifices managers and players have to make and county board officers do, too.
‘I’ve made a lot of sacrifices over the last three years, so I’ll be glad to get back to some sense of normality.’