Sport

O'Donovan means business with changes to leagues and appointment of Ricken

February 3rd, 2019 8:00 AM

By Denis Hurley

Keith Ricken, who has been appointed as manager of the Cork U20 football team. (Photo: George Hatchell)

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WHEN Kevin O’Donovan was appointed as the man tasked with replacing Frank Murphy as the secretary of the Cork County Board, we expressed the concern that he may not be able to live up to expectations.

That’s not as a slur on the Kilmeen man’s many talents, but rather a reflection of the feeling that so many people saw him as a white knight, riding in to solve all of the ills of Cork GAA in a quick enough time that he’d be back home to his farm to do the milking.

As coaching officer and then vice-chairman, O’Donovan had made all of the right noises about which changes were needed and how to tackle them, but there is always a fear that positions of high power bring about too much a moderating effect on revolutionaries.

Again, the intention isn’t to cast O’Donovan as a firebrand crybaby who might, say, effect a shutdown of Cork GAA activities if he couldn’t get funding to build a wall on the Kerry border. He has big ambitions, but he knows that change must take place at a manageable rate and that the easiest way to generate opposition is by alienating the people you have to bring with them.

In the past week, though, O’Donovan has shown that the committee charged with appointing Murphy’s replacement made an excellent choice. Obviously, the decision of another West Cork man, Gene O’Driscoll, to step down as U20 manager was disappointing – he will hopefully tell his story in due course – but that created a vacancy and, with time not in short supply, it had to be filled.

In appointing Keith Ricken of St Vincent’s so quickly, the executive of the board, and by extension O’Donovan, deserve praise for making a good decision when under pressure. As the GAA development officer in Cork IT, Ricken has shown a deep talent for nurturing players but also for nurturing people, with the need for a good education always held higher by him than the need for medals.

That’s not to say that success on the field has eluded him – he led CIT to Sigerson Cup glory in 2009 and was in charge of his native St Vincent’s for their premier intermediate football win in 2012. However, U20 manager is a role requiring the development of players as well as the search for silverware and in Ricken Cork have the perfect character to tick those two boxes.

His appointment was ratified at Tuesday’s county board meeting in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, where another example of O’Donovan’s impact was seen with the adoption of an overhaul of the county leagues system.

A notable change is that wins will now yield four points, with two for a draw and a point for the fulfilling of the fixture – the desire to clampdown on walkovers is clear to see with the stipulation that a club be relegated if they scratch more than two games in the one campaign. That such a practice takes place is counter-intuitive when we hear so much about the need to provide games for club players. In any case, no matter how dire the straits in terms of personnel on a given day, it should always be possible to find 15 players, even if it means throwing in a few junior Cs.

The streamlining of the hurling league into a five-division system like the football is also quite a shift, as previously the senior hurling league was a stand-alone operation. You gained entry only by winning the premier intermediate championship and it was possible, albeit unlikely, to win the league and be relegated, if you lost senior status based on championship results.

As well as these administrative changes, though, there is the plan to finish all leagues by the end of July. This ensures that players will have regular games during the summer, even if championships have ground to a halt and is something to be welcomed.

The league games will also be leading towards the championship, rather than being anti-climactic games that have to be played as autumn turns to winter, long after the championship dreams have died.

While the championship scheduling can’t be tackled this year, that’s not O’Donovan’s fault, but you can rest assured that moves are afoot to sort things in that regard. He has certainly made positive early steps in his new role and there are more to come.

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