WHEN Cork left Páirc Uí Rinn after a 16-point defeat to Kerry in the Munster MFC on May 7th, few people if any would have entertained hopes of the Rebels progressing too far in the championship.
While the changes to the provincial set-up for this year meant that avoided being dumped out of the championship, the road back to success looked to be a long one. However, manager Bobbie O’Dwyer and his backroom team took things step by step, beginning with the next game against Clare and Cork have improved game by game since then, culminating in Sunday’s All-Ireland final against Galway.
‘What happened the first night against Kerry was an experience for all of us,’ he says.
‘It’s nice to have moved on from that. We’ve been involved with these boys since they were 14 in one form or another so we knew the quality inside in that dressing room.
‘I might sound like a broken record at this stage, but four or five of the team that played the semi-final weren’t available the first day. When you take such numbers out of a team, you are going to be impacted.
‘Having said that, Kerry gave a performance that night and we learned an awful lot from that. Somebody said to me long ago that you learn more from defeat than you do in victory – I don’t want to face that kind of thing again but you do learn an awful lot from it.’
That Clare game was the critical one for Cork, as a win sent them into the Munster final and a rematch with Kerry, with another game guaranteed in the All-Ireland series.
‘When you get a whacking like we did the first night, it really tests the character of everybody,’ O’Dwyer says.
‘That’s players and management, because trying to lift your jaw off the table after a game like that is quite difficult. I think, going into the Clare dressing room after we played them, they were absolutely devastated and I was talking to their manager afterwards – they couldn’t believe that our guys were able to perform after the game we had against Kerry.
‘It’s a great testament to the players and to the rest of the management team. The lads really buckled down, we only had a week to recover so that was a good win.
‘One of the pluses from our point of view is, the games we had to win, the lads performed. There’s a big difference to the other games – I wouldn’t say choose when to win or lose, you don’t, but, when you had to win, the boys performed.’
Urhan native O’Dwyer has been involved with this group since their U14 days. As well as managing O’Donovan Rossa and Macroom in recent years, he was also involved with Legion in Killarney, his footballing path following his professional one as a manager with AIB.
Is there a strong level of transferability between professional and recreational management?
‘I use the term ‘manager’ and I use it very broadly, it’s about bringing a team with you together,’ he says.
‘When you’re involved in working with a group of people, they’re trained in whatever, sales or marketing, but very few people are trained to manage people.
‘That’s always the biggest challenge of any group you’re dealing with so it transfers quite comfortably from business to sport.’
The next step is trying to overcome Galway, in the process ending a 19-year for a minor football All-Ireland.‘Galway are a good team,’ O’Dwyer says.
‘Any team that beats the All-Ireland champions would have to rightly viewed as favourites.
‘We’ve played them twice already, they’re a team that we know well and their manager Donall Ó Fatharta is someone I consider to be one of the top minor managers in the country.
‘I’d have great time for them, I like the way they play their football, it will be a big challenge but we’ll have to be up for it.’
Win or lose, the team will have forged the maximum from their summer, something which has eluded quite a few Cork sides in the recent past. To that end, O’Dwyer has no fears regarding the players’ future development.
‘One, we’re going up there to win the match,’ he says, ‘but it’s all about a performance and whether we win or lose the game, that’s not going to define the individuals.
‘We’re looking, and we’ll work with the boys to make sure a performance is given, but I stress, that’s one part of the aspect of their character.
‘We spoke to the lads at the start of the year about how we look at three things when we’re trying to develop a player – their attitude; what’s their commitment like; their humility and ability to link in, the understanding that the team trumps the individual.
‘Once they fit in, and they’re all superb lads, they’re going to develop. Not all of them are going to go on to play senior football for Cork, but the hope is that is that they’ll go on to become top-class young people.’