It's natural to feel anxious about children returning to play - Barry Corkery

May 5th, 2021 2:53 PM

By Ger McCarthy

Barry Corkery pictured with his wife Gretchen and three children Annabel (7), Tiarnan (9) and Pippa (3).

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It is ‘perfectly natural’ for parents to feel anxious about their children returning to training according Barry Corkery.

Corkery, whose work in behavioural psychotherapy has proven invaluable to Ephie Fitzgerald’s Cork LGFA senior setup in recent years, is a Senior Addiction Counsellor for the Addiction Services in Kerry and Cork.

Living in Ovens with his wife Gretchen and three children Tiarnan (9), Annabel (7) and Pippa (3), Barry Corkery is heavily involved with his local club Éire Óg.

Thousands of children returned to outdoor sports following the easing of level 5 restrictions last week. As relieved as parents, children and coaches were to get back out in the fresh air, for some, the coming weeks will be filled with anxiety.


Parents will be anxious their children are returning to a safe environment and that they will be able to assimilate to restricted outdoor recreation and social interactions.

‘Everyone has to go by the rules on their return to sport so it not surprising that a lot of parents and young players might encounter some trepidation,’ Corkery said.

‘I grew up in a home that was big into GAA and it was part of what we did every day growing up. My Mam and Dad instilled a love of GAA in all of us. As I got older, I would have gotten involved in coaching Sciath na Scol not long after coming out of UCC. That is something that gave me a huge amount of satisfaction. Nowadays, living in Ovens, I am heavily involved in the Eire Óg GAA club and they have a superb setup there.

‘As for going back playing this week, the first thing to remember is that NPHET has recommended that it is safe to return to non-contact training.

‘So, it is safe to play outdoor games across the board, GAA, rugby and all the other sports. It is perfectly natural to be anxious about it as anxiety is a fear-based emotion. A fear of the future. Obviously, kids will be thrilled to go back and play out on a pitch with their friends. Making connections is a hugely important thing for a human being. For some, it is still a challenge to return to school or outdoor games.

‘The last 12 months has meant children and adults, for the most part, spending most of their time at home. So, it is understandable to have some trepidation about making the return to outdoor games and all that might entail. I would still be encouraging parents to support their children in returning to play games as long as it is safe to do so.’


Cork GAA ran a successful webinar entitled: ‘Importance of Return to Sport; Fitter Body, Fitter Mind’ about adopting a positive outlook in life and sport last Friday evening.

The guest speakers were Cork U20 football manager Keith Ricken and Barry Corkery.

Whilst Ricken is well-known in GAA circles, Éire Óg’s Corkery has become an equally influential member of the Cork LGFA senior backroom team.

‘We organised the webinar to support people returning to play outdoor games,’ Corkery told The Southern Star.

‘Keith and I, through Kevin O’Callaghan, used the platform to discuss all the emotions, fears, tribulations and experiences of going back playing sport. The webinar was used as a platform to explain how these were completely normal feelings to have for parents and children alike. In life, we are trying to encourage “avoiding avoiding”. We explained the values and importance of returning to our games.

‘Keith (Ricken) didn’t need much of an introduction and brought the wealth of his coaching expertise to the webinar. He is a larger-than-life character but possesses a great depth of knowledge when it comes to sport. It was a smart move to have Keith involved. Part of our message was to validate that, despite people having fears about going back out on to the pitch, but it is important to focus our heads on the future and not the past.

‘I think one of the key messages from the webinar was that it is important to pace ourselves as children, parents and coaches over the next weeks and months. Some kids will have pushed on after kicking a ball the whole time during the pandemic while others mightn’t have picked up a ball or sliotar during the same timeframe.

‘That is going to be par for the course when coaching begins. Some kids will have outgrown their football boots but what about it?

If they turn up in their runners, let them off. That message is across the board for all sports and not just GAA. Let’s get back and start playing ball, enjoy it and make a celebration of it.’


Barry Corkery’s name kept cropping up during interviews with the Cork LGFA senior squad on their run to last year’s All-Ireland final. Each player interviewed in The Southern Star had nothing but praise for Corkery’s input and his many talks with the panel throughout the season. Corkery’s background in behavioural psychotherapy has proven invaluable to the Cork senior players over the past three years.

‘I would know Ephie Fitzgerald quite well from having first worked with him nearly 20 years ago,’ Corkery noted.

‘It was through that friendship and connection that Ephie invited me to get involved with the Cork senior ladies back in 2019. It was a no-brainer for me and a wonderful opportunity. I absolutely love being involved with the Cork senior ladies setup.

‘My background training is in behavioural psychotherapy; I am not a sports psychologist or anything like that. I specialise in things like performance anxiety and do a lot of work with supporting people and teaching people skills. Getting people to manage their emotions rather than have their emotions managing them.

‘It is in that sense that I have always believed the human being comes before the player. That holistic approach is where I come from.

‘The human being is the expert of their own lives. There is no point me telling any Cork senior player how to play football. What I can do is to facilitate a space for all the Cork players to identify their goals and the process as opposed to the destination of where they want to go.

‘The steps involved in that process and the mental strategy in becoming the best they can be is what I concentrate on. I introduce some simple

tips and tools and some mindfulness practices to achieve that.’


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