NEW Beara senior football manager Andrew Fitzgerald wants to create an environment that the division’s footballers are excited to be part of.
The Killarney man, who played his club football with Spa GAA Club, has taken the reins of the Beara senior footballers this season – and he sees this as an exciting opportunity to put Beara football back on the map.
The division hasn’t competed in the county senior championship since 2019 and their last win in this competition was in 2018, but there is a concerted effort in Beara to get momentum behind the team and point it in the right direction.
‘The big thing is to bring a set-up that the players will be happy to be involved in and excited to be involved with,’ says new senior manager Fitzgerald, who is also in charge of Sneem/Derrynane in Kerry.
‘With every club I have been involved with, my big thing is player development and trying to help every player become the best player that he can possibly be. It’s not about setting out the stall, saying we will win this or win that, it’s about each player saying “I am going to become the best player I can possibly be” and putting in place the structures that allow that to happen.
‘Over the last few years Beara have had a good few Cork minors and last year they won the Cork minor championship at the top grade so that is all promising for the future. I think it’s really important to have the best structures in place for those players to play at the top level.
‘On the down side it’s probably a bit geographically challenged where a lot of the players are working away and they might find it hard to make their own club games, let alone a divisional side which will take a lot of commitment at that standard.’
In December 2021 Beara won the Rebel Óg county premier 1 minor football title, beating Ballincollig in the final. Afterwards, mentor Ciarán O’Sullivan, the former Cork footballer, said: ‘This has put Beara football back on the map again.’ Beara Community School recently won the Munster PPS U19D football championship and are waiting to play an All-Ireland schools’ semi-final. These are all green shoots in a division that last won the Cork SFC title in 1997, 25 years ago.
Fitzgerald is aware of Beara’s football tradition and he also has a background in divisional teams, having been involved in East Kerry at different levels, so he understands how important it is to strike a balance between clubs and the divisional team.
‘It’s obvious that commitment to their club is number one, and the pride of the area where they are from and who they play for. The opportunity that the Beara divisional side presents is they get the chance to play at the highest level in the Cork county championship and represent their area at the top standard of football in Cork,’ he says.
‘One other advantage that Beara has is that it’s a football dominated part of the county and hurling doesn't feature as strongly so that will give us an opportunity to prepare the way we want to.’
Fitzgerald also has a strong basketball background, as a player and coach in Kerry, and he sees a growing crossover between the two sports. He will bring those ideas to his new role with Beara.
‘In recent years it has really come to prominence with a lot of high-profile GAA players also being really good basketball players,’ he explains.
‘Traditionally at Gaelic football training it was the concept of running around the field and having two footballs, whereas in basketball it’s a more tactical approach, everyone has a ball in hand and you are really working on your fine motor skills all the time. There’s the footwork from basketball. The defensive set-ups from basketball we see more and more in the GAA, especially zone press on kick-outs.
‘With regards to the way that defences set up, and you see it in Kerry now too, the northern teams have been a bit ahead of the curve for many years. They implement a lot of what would be basic setups in basketball where you are double-teaming the ball.
‘With the evolution of the kick-out in football, you see a lot more screening off the ball and creating channels of space for players to get open. That’s a big cross-over from the basketball world. None more so than Dublin who have Mark Ingle, an international basketball coach, and Jason Sherlock in their backroom team. That was really evident on their set-up in kick-outs in the last few years.’
An outside voice with new ideas and no allegiance to any Beara club, Fitzgerald is determined to put Beara football back on the map.