County Board Coaching Officer Kevin O’Donovan spoke to Kieran McCarthy about his views on Cork GAA – and its current state of health – that made national headlines in the past week. Interesting reading for all Cork fans
HE admits it won’t be very sexy and that it will take time but Cork County Board Coaching Officer Kevin O’Donovan has called on all GAA clubs in the county to spearhead the drive for change.
The Kilmeen-Kilbree clubman (pictured) has been vocal about the need for an urgent review of GAA structures in the county, coming in the wake of Cork’s loss to Tipperary in the Munster SHC, which was one defeat too many for the county board coaching officer.
He feels that particular defeat presents the county with an opportunity to take action because it’s now in the spotlight.
O’Donovan has spoken about the need for Cork to appoint directors of hurling and football, for clubs to lead the charge for change, for the county board to listen to the clubs, for the Rebel Óg structure to be reviewed, etc. – all with the common goal of improving Cork GAA.
We caught up with the West Cork man to further explain his views that have made national headlines since last week’s county board meeting.
Kieran McCarthy (KMC): It’s obvious something has gone wrong somewhere, with, for example, Cork teams struggling on the big stage, but this hasn’t happened overnight, has it?
Kevin O’Donovan (KOD): ‘There have been changing times but we, Cork GAA, didn’t move with them. It wasn’t as if we stopped or went backwards, the world just moved on without us.
‘If you look at the changing school systems, we don’t have the boarding schools anymore. You have the results of urbanisation, smaller clubs with a low population are under pressure, bigger clubs with a massive population are difficult to cope with, yet we still have the same model that we had before these issues came to light.
‘Have we got our structures right? The answer is no. Sadly, that all comes to bear then with a team loses, like in Thurles, and they are the lads in the firing line. That’s why I have sympathy for players because they are the guys at the end of the line getting stick when we all have a responsibility way before that to get structures in place that support them.’
KMC: Admitting there’s a problem is the first step, but Cork GAA needs to act now, and you feel strongly that the clubs need to be at the centre of this change?
KOD: ‘There is no magic bullet. This needs to be root and branch but it also needs to be consistent. It’s no use doing a big overhaul now and then we stop again.
‘What I want to see is a return of debate to the floor at county board meetings because these challenges are going to keep coming. In five years’ time there will be new challenges, in 20 years’ time who knows what the challenges will be? It’s the process we need to get right so the clubs become vocal, they’re listened to, we agree or disagree, we have votes, we have elections and we work on.
‘It’s not the case of having a massive overhaul and stopping again, it’s a consistent openness to new ideas, critical thinking, action and, most of all, unity. That’s my issue with personalities because we waste some amount of time in this county talking about what site such and such a thing is on and who is involved, rather than dealing with the issues that really matter.’
KMC: You’ve talked about Cork appointing directors of hurling and football. Does Cork really need them, and if so, what would they do?
KOD: ‘The scale at which Cork operate is unparalleled in the country in that we are one of a very small number of counties with a dual mandate of promoting football and hurling equally.
‘I’m not talking about dual players, what I mean is that we promote both games equally – we have equal county championships in football and hurling, both Cork teams have the same budgets and there are very few counties doing that.
‘Because of that scale, the size of the county and the variation between urban and rural, we need individuals with vision who can pull it together.
‘When I talk about a Director of Hurling, it’s not to undermine the county management, it’s to support them. They would be a constant source of support that would advise on skill development, draw up a coaching syllabus for teenage players, liaise with schools right down so there is support at all levels for anyone who wants to improve their players.’
KMC: You’ve also name-checked the Rebel Óg GAA structure as in need of an overhaul – what exactly are the issues there?
KOD: ‘It was a brilliant idea at the time. It still is a brilliant idea – but it needs a second wave of reform now. It was brought in six years ago, there was always meant to be a review after a couple of years and that hasn’t happened. We can go back, have the same vision and get it right.
‘There are huge concerns about travelling and local rivalry, I think we could sort them within the structure. I’m not talking about dismantling Rebel Óg, but it needs another wave of reform.
‘There needs to be more centralised fixture making. The more people you have making fixtures, and with the best will in the world, the more challenges it brings.
‘I know there is a big concern about travelling and local rivalries, and I think you can have both. You can group teams within regional structures to get local rivalry and to get people playing at home but you can also allow yourself the freedom for teams to travel as well.
‘What you need is a fluid structure where teams have a bit of movement and a centralised fixture making.’
KMC: A couple of weeks back, Derek Kavanagh highlighted how Cork GAA has no centre of excellence and no place to call home, surely this needs to be addressed? It’s all well and good pumping money into Páirc Uí Chaoimh, but that’s not the answer, is it?
KOD: ‘I can understand the frustrations of team managers. When you think of the challenges they have on the field, to be looking for pitches is unacceptable.
‘There are two positives. Number one, Páirc Uí Chaoimh is mandated by the clubs, it’s going ahead and it will be a valuable resource to Cork GAA, but in the short-term we do have major issues.
‘Number two, we have UCC and CIT, two of the leading colleges in the country on our doorstep, who promote GAA as their primary sports. CIT have magnificent facilities, UCC have long-term plans to develop further facilities. Discussions have already started with those organisations with regards licensing or partnerships, investigating to see if we can start to build a relationship. I would like that to move more quickly, but it takes time.
‘Derek Kavanagh put his finger on it. It’s not just the availability of the pitches, but the identity that it brings. If you have Cork minors training on a field beside the Cork seniors, that’s invaluable in terms of relationship, in terms of character building. That unity and vision is missing when teams are scattered around the county.
‘I don’t think anyone believes that Páirc Uí Chaoimh will meet those needs so a partnership agreement – a long-term successful rent partnership – is the solution because it also means that we don’t have to spend further resources on facilities.
‘It’s a systems approach that we need where everything links. A Director of Hurling in the morning will not solve our problems and a set of pitches wouldn’t solve them either – but imagine a Director of Hurling with an office that overlooks four pitches where the Cork minors, U21s, intermediates and seniors are training on, and the same pitch that the Cork U14, U15, U16 and U17s train on the night after, and the same pitch that a Harty Cup match is played on the Wednesday after, or that a primary schools’ blitz is played on. Then all of that vision comes through.’
KMC: That all sounds good, in theory, but what happens next? People, rightly, want to see action, not more talk.
KOD: ‘That’s the real challenge, we talk about committees and reform, and it sounds great, but it’s very frustrating for the people who are on the ground, they want something to happen now.
‘What has happened at the last county board meeting was that it was proposed that the clubs go back and discuss all these issues amongst themselves, then come forward to the floor at county board and put forward ideas that will ultimately lead to motions and votes.
‘This is about voting, this is about putting your money where your mouth is.
‘I worry about committees, I have seen a lot of committees where ideas go to die, and get stuck in meetings, consultations and bureaucracy.
‘Some of the issues are so obvious, we need to go to the floor at county board where every club in Cork is represented, they need to speak their mind and the county board needs to listen. It’s not very sexy. We don’t need a 30-page report reviewing Cork GAA. Delegates need to speak to their clubs about these issues and then we go and thrash it out. Put our thoughts on the table and let the best ideas win – let democracy rule.’