BY JJ HURLEY
A TEAM envied by aspiring clubs throughout the county, Kinsale's ladies footballers’ success owes much to the direction of team coach Micheál O'Connor.
A native of Roscommon, O'Connor learned his trade in both codes at Four Roads and St Aidan’s GAA clubs before following his career prospects to San Francisco.
Like previous emigrants, the GAA was a crucial social tool in helping him find his feet in his new surroundings.
'It was absolutely huge to me settling in,’ he remarked.
Having spent 14 years State-side, he returned to Ireland and settled in his wife Carol's home town, Kinsale, with their three children.
Like many returning emigrants, those first few years proved a challenging time, building a home and getting his glazing business off the ground.
Initially, he had little time to pursue his interest in GAA, but with his sons’ involvement, he began to return to his roots, helping enormously in the settling in process.
'It wasn't until I got involved in the club here in Kinsale that I felt I was finally at home,’ O'Connor said.
That involvement grew first at the underage level, coaching at both codes, before taking the role of underage chairman and liaison officer with the schools.
By 2015, he was ready for a new challenge.
Having witnessed Kinsale ladies ship a heavy defeat to Bantry Blues in the county final of that year, O'Connor put his hand up for the vacant manager's job.
When asked what it was he saw in the team's potential, he replied, 'I had been going to all the girls’ matches, including the underage section. I thought they had some excellent players and were playing some good football.'
However, he recognised the need to instil a sense of inner belief and confidence, which surfaced 12 months later, as Kinsale reached the All-Ireland junior final, losing out to St Maurs, Dublin by two points.
Critical to any team's success is the backroom team.
The Roscommon native has made astute appointments in that department, including Gene O'Callaghan, Siobhan Kennedy, Ger Finn and Chris Cronin, with Tom Finn the junior team manager and fitness coach Sinead O'Regan recent additions.
Of course, the team's requirements remain paramount, with O'Connor remarking, 'It's not what I want or what anyone else wants, it's all about the team, what do they want. You have to put a training session out there that suits the players, and the girls come first in everything we do.'
Having a happy camp has played a significant part in the club reaching senior status, collecting an intermediate county and Munster title, before narrowly losing out in the All-Ireland final by a one-point margin to Dunboyne in 2017.
Subsequent success has come in the county senior B championship and U21A county football championship in 2018 and reaching the county semi-final in 2021, losing to Mourneabbey.
Much of this continued success has been driven by O'Connor's management style based on individual communication, advising players on crucial areas of improvement or having a word a couple of days before a game if a player fails to get the nod.
Acknowledging the club is blessed with two of the country's top players, Orla Finn and Sadbh O’Leary, he adds, 'It is a team out there. It's not a matter of getting the ball to the two girls. If the team doesn't put in the work, Orla or Sadbh will not win the game on their own.'
Looking forward to the upcoming season, with near-neighbours Valley Rovers joining the senior ranks, O'Connor said it promises to be a competitive championship as everyone continues to play catch up with Mourneabbey.
As for his future, he's still very much committed to Kinsale.