GIVEN the current situation, new Cork minor football manager Michael O’Brien is pleased that he and his backroom team have already built working relationships with the players who will be under their care.
O’Brien, who guided Ballincollig to the county senior football title in 2014, was confirmed as the replacement for Bobbie O’Dwyer – who has become a Cork senior selector – a fortnight ago but, obviously, Covid-19 restrictions have meant that the team and management have been unable to meet in person as of yet.
It brings its own challenges, naturally.
‘Obviously, that’s difficult,’ O’Brien says.
‘We’re doing it all over Zoom at the moment, trying to get to know the players and do S&C sessions.
‘We are lucky that everybody that’s involved with the management team has worked with some of the players previously. That is obviously of huge benefit, that every player has some link and there’s nobody coming in completely cold.’
However, O’Brien does at least have the consolation that those working with him – including former Clonakilty and Newcestown player Martin O’Brien – are familiar with the 2021 crop, thanks to involvement in the Rebel Óg development squads.
‘I was with the current U16s, the players who’ll be up to the minor age next year,’ he says.
‘I was with them for two years, U14 and U15. Daniel Cronin, Martin O’Brien and Donncha O’Connor would have been involved with the Mid and the West regional sides, with the current U17s. Gary Sheehan would have been involved in the City and North, along with Brían Morgan, who’s our goalkeeping coach.
‘It’s very important to have links like that.’
The step from development squads to minor is not insignificant, especially as Cork now operate a model where regional sides compete in provincial competitions at U14-16 and this is the first time that the best in the county will have played together. O’Brien is also keen to make the case that the panel isn’t closed and there will be opportunities for other players to stake a claim.
‘At the moment, it’s still a provisional squad,’ he says.
‘Obviously, we haven’t seen them properly, because the last time they were in action with the development squads was last March, before Covid hit.
‘We’re hoping that, as soon as we have a pitch, that we’ll host trials to finalise the squad. There are a few players that mightn’t have been on the development squads, who have developed over the last 18 months that we want to see as well.
‘It’s still up in the air in that regard.’
After stepping down from the role of Ballincollig senior manager, O’Brien was involved with the club’s underage teams and U21 hurlers before taking on the Rebel Óg roles. There are differences in dealing with younger players compared to adults, but ultimately the end-goal is the same.
‘I think you have to simplify everything for them and make things nice and easy to understand,’ he says.
‘On the other hand, you’re dealing with the best in the county so their fitness ability and footballing ability are going to be of a high standard.
‘You’re trying to get across the same tactics and style of play to them, so the main thing is just to make it clear and simple.’
While the 2020 minor championships are still ongoing, last year’s minors exited the Munster championship at the semi-final stage following an extra-time defeat to Kerry. With such a compacted calendar, it’s one less headache, though he would of course have liked to have seen Cork progress.
‘There are benefits and negatives,’ he says.
‘The negative is that you’d love to see the Cork team still in the championship. It’s all up in the air at the moment in terms of what’s going to happen.
‘The date for the first round of the championship is March 20th and it’s really tight, it’s an 11-week period for the completion of the minor championships.
‘It is a tight programme with the split season. In an ideal world, you’d like to be on the pitch the previous October and November, getting things organised with them.
‘With Covid and the year that’s in it, it is going to be more difficult. The time you’d have with them is going to be a lot less than what you’d like.
‘We’re working on the assumption that it will be March 20th and that’s all that we can do until it’s changed, because it’s out of our hands.’