BY KIERAN McCARTHY
IT didn’t take long for Rebel Og Academy Administrator Kevin O’Donovan to persuade former Cork footballer Derek Kavanagh to come on board.
It was during the winter of 2014 when O’Donovan touched base with Kavanagh, and over the phone the former briefed the latter on his vision for the Rebel Og squads and how important they are to the future of football and hurling in this county.
Kavanagh didn’t take too much convincing.
He liked what he heard, and the benefits it would have for Cork GAA. He was on board.
‘If you are to have any hope of competing in the minor grade, which was where Cork were falling behind a small but, then you need to have development squads in place,’ the former All-Ireland winning defender said.
‘You need a proper system in place for 14, 15, 16 year olds so you can maximise their potential, give them a flavour of what inter-county is about, teach them best practice when it comes to diets, training, skills, and give them the best possible chance to be as good as they can be.’
Kavanagh first got involved in the Rebel Óg U15 football development squad but has progressed to become manager of the U16 footballers this season, assisted by GAA men of the calibre of Niall Twomey (Ballinascarthy) and Eoin O’Neill (Aghada) among many others.
In fact, one of the strongest assets to the Rebel Óg set-up is that it has got former Cork players involved in coaching. Noel O’Leary is a mentor with the U15 development football squad that is managed by Brian Lotty (Glanmire), who has plenty of inter-county experience at various grades, while GDA James McCarthy, of Castlehaven fame, is also involved.
Bantry great Graham Canty, former Cork goalkeeper Alan Quirke and former Cork manager Conor Counihan, to name just a few, are also helping out with various football squads, with Canty a regular speaker at training where he talks to the young players about the commitment needed for inter-county football, about preparation and diet, etc.
‘It’s very important that former players are involved,’ Kavanagh said.
‘You have top-level administrators there, but they can only do so much. You leave the strength and conditioning to the strength and conditioning experts, there are top-level coaches working in the county, fantastic GDAs, and you do need that flavour of former inter-county players who can tell the players what it’s about.
‘If you think about it, you are taking on hundreds of young players around 14 or 15, and a good chunk of these guys who come in will go back out, so it’s important to give these as much information as you can because you only have them for very defined periods of the year.
‘It’s an asset to have players who have been involved at inter-county level to impart that knowledge to the players, about what it takes to be involved at inter-county level at minor, U21 and senior. We might have two hours once a week or we might see them twice a month so we need to maximise that time.’
Kavanagh is confident that five or six of his current U16 Rebel Óg squad will play minor with Cork next year, as the results of this structure will start to come to fruition over the next few years.
There is no guarantee of success, he agrees, but when he thinks back to his own days as a minor in 1998, the current Rebel Óg set-up is light years ahead of what he was used to.
‘These guys will already know each other, will have trained with each other for years before they become minors and that can only improve it,’ Kavanagh said.
‘The fact that they have had exposure to and talks from Graham Canty and Conor Counihan, and that they have had strength and conditioning programmes put in place from the Mardyke – all that can only help.
‘Whether or not it can give you direct success remains to be see but what it does do is give you the best chance of success.
‘The days are gone of having a few trials in October with 17 and 18 year olds and picking your team from that. There needs to be a more long-term development at minor level because it’s becoming more structured and more serious every year.
‘If we didn’t have these development squads in place I don’t think it would be possible to compete at minor level.’
This Saturday, various Rebel Óg football squads will be competing in Munster tournaments – the U14s in Dungarvan, the U15s in Millstreet and the U16s in Limerick. Cork will enter Cork East and Cork West teams to take on Kerry North, Kerry South, Limerick, Tipperary, Clare and Waterford. This is an ideal chance to monitor player development.
So while the current Cork seniors battle in Killarney in Sunday’s Munster final, the county’s future are also taking important steps on the ladder – helped in no small part by former Cork footballers.