Former Rebel boss appointed Cork GAA project co-ordinator
BY DENIS HURLEY
FORMER Cork player and manager Conor Counihan is the man charged with the sizeable task of overseeing the performance of the county’s five-year football plan, but he is optimistic that a strong collective effort can bring about success.
Apart from Billy Morgan, Counihan is the only man to play for and manage Cork All-Ireland winning teams.
The Aghada native won an All-Ireland U21 medal in 1980 and was centre-back on the successful senior teams of 1989 and 1990. Appointed as manager in 2008, he guided the county to the 2010 All-Ireland, Munster titles in his first two years and 2012 as well as three league Division 1 wins and one Division 2 victory.
In addition, he is on the board of the Cáirde Chorcaí fundraising vehicle and, along with Brian Cuthbert, Graham Canty and county chairperson Tracey Kennedy, helped to develop ‘2024: A Five-Year Plan for Cork Football’.
Now, he has been appointed as project co-ordinator, taking office on June 3rd. He accepts that it is a big task, but he feels that a strong buy-in throughout the county will ensure that the targets are achieved.
‘The five-year plan is there, so it’s about trying to implement that,’ he says.
‘The key from where I am is engaging with people on the ground to ensure that there’s a co-ordinated approach to coaching young players.
‘That’s the key to it because, at the end of the day, inter-county managers at U14, U16, minor or whatever only get so much time with the players. It’s the club coaches who have the biggest influence and biggest impact and that’s where we have to try to focus our attentions.’
The fact that the job is a salaried role and further appointments are planned – there will be a high-performance manager, talent identification manager and a junior administrator to liaise with Rebel Óg, as well as more games development administrators (GDAs) – shows the positive approach being taken.
‘It shows the seriousness of the board in saying, “This needs to be driven and this needs to happen,”’ Counihan says.
‘Between this and the appointment of a performance director and more GDAs before the year is out, hopefully there’ll be a lot of resources allocated towards this.
‘It’s very difficult in the modern world to get volunteers so it’s important that there is a strong focus on this.’
However, Counihan is at pains to point out that there are no quick fixes here. While the plan expresses the hope that Cork can become regular All-Ireland contenders by 2024, the county is starting from a low base.
Relegation in the league leaves them in Division 3 for the start of 2020 and, while a win over Limerick on Saturday week will secure a place in the Munster final, they would likely go in as rank outsiders.
Counihan is aware of the reality of the situation and wants patience from supporters in the county.
‘Things like trying to move up the divisions in the league aren’t going to happen overnight,’ he says.
‘You’d be looking to manage a few incremental steps to get there. People have to be patient and they have to acknowledge that, while results haven’t been what we’d like them to be, there is an awful lot of hard going on at different levels.
‘It isn’t all negativity, but there has been negativity there and that hasn’t helped anyone, players or management. It’s time for people to maybe hold their powder dry for a while and give a chance to the work that is going on and have faith that it will pay off.’
Ultimately, the success of the plan will be determined by how coherent the joined-up approach is, Counihan feels.
‘All of these people are important, because they’ll be there to support each other,’ he says, ‘but the people on the ground are the really important people.
‘I have to try to co-ordinate things and get everyone pulling in the one direction. Despite what people might say, I think that there are a lot of people out there with an interest and a passion for Cork football.
‘If we can motivate those and get them going, then let’s see where it goes.’