MARTIN O’Brien’s addition to the Cork minor football backroom team will bring a wealth of experience to the inter-county set-up for 2021.
The Clonakilty GAA club man is part of a rejigged minor U17 football coaching ticket that will aid manager Michel O’Brien (Ballincollig) over the coming year. Former Cork footballer Donncha O’Connor (Ballydesmond), Daniel Cronin (St Mary’s) and Gary Sheehan (Carrigtwohill) are the other selectors involved as Cork searches for its first provincial minor football success since 2010.
Martin O’Brien’s GAA CV includes a three-year stint (2017 to 2019) as part of Paudie Murray’s Cork senior camogie management team. Next, a phone call from Conor Counihan prompted O’Brien to get involved coaching the Cork Rebel Óg Fé15 and Fé16 development squads in 2020. There, his remit included coaching both the West and Mid Cork football squads.
As if the former Newcestown senior and current Clonakilty junior footballer wasn’t busy enough, O’Brien is also Mitchelstown intermediate football manager and led the club to the 2020 Cork IAFC county final (which has yet to be played). But the chance to move into the Cork minor coaching set-up was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
‘When a job with the Cork minors came up, I accepted straight away. I mean, you couldn’t say no to your county,’ O’Brien told The Southern Star.
‘I spoke to both Conor (Counihan) and Michael (O’Brien) and was delighted to get involved with the Cork minor footballers. I know Michael from our time together in college and when he played centre-back for Ballincollig. I didn’t have to think twice about it. I immediately signed up to be both a coach and selector with the team for a two-year term.
‘This year is going to be really difficult because all we have is a provisional fixture for March 20th with the draw still to be made. But the way the world is now, nobody might still be allowed out on a pitch when that date comes around.’
O’Brien and his fellow Cork minor selectors have been busily preparing for the upcoming championship despite the current pandemic. Numerous Zoom calls have filled the Rebel management team’s time to make sure they hit the ground running as soon as the all clear for a return to on-field action is given.
‘We have been very active because there is a lot to organise,’ O’Brien said.
‘Michael has a specific way he wants the game to be played so we have been going through a lot of things. Everything becomes more transparent once you are out on a pitch but all we can do for now is put structures in place and plan our training sessions. We have also been working closely with our strength and conditioning coach Fionn O’Shea (Clyda Rovers).’
Cork football is back under the microscope since Mark Keane’s injury-time winner filleted Kerry and Tipperary ended the senior squad’s championship interest. Getting things right at underage level has never been more critical and much is expected of Cork over the coming years following Bobby O’Dwyer and Keith Ricken’s recent All-Ireland minor and U20 successes respectively.
So, does O’Brien feel pressure to be successful in terms of lifting silverware or producing quality players that will eventually make the senior team?
‘For me, it is all about development and success is a by-product of development,’ he explained.
‘It might seem an obvious perspective. Of course we want success for the Cork minors, but success in terms of developing our players means a good number of them progressing on to the U20 and senior panels. In fairness, Cork’s underage coaching has been focussed in on developing players over the last number of years. That development came and success followed.
‘I spoke to Keith Ricken about this very point and our remit is to develop as many quality Cork players as we can. I saw Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers on TV the other night saying sometimes silver medallists become the best football players so you just need to be patient with them and develop them properly.
‘Thankfully, I can see really good players coming through from my time coaching at Rebel Óg Fé15 and Fé16 level. I think the coaching mantra within Rebel Óg (right now) of getting players to kick, solo and hand pass on both their left and right sides might sound a bit obvious but will be of huge benefit.
‘Sometimes players who are really strong at club level can ignore honing their skills because they become used to dominating games. As you move up through the inter-county grades, the advantage of being able to kick a ball accurately with your left and right foot opens up your game. From a technical perspective, we have seen a correlation between a player being able to kick with their left or right and improved performance levels in games.’
The Cork minor footballers don’t know when or where they their 2021 Munster championship opener will be but are in safe hands with Martin O’Brien, his fellow selectors and manager Michael O’Brien at the helm.