NEARLY two years ago, the then-coaching officer of the Cork County Board, Kevin O’Donovan, drew up a 25-point plan for the development of the GAA in Cork.
At the time, it was warmly welcomed by all Cork supporters but the GAA hierarchy in the county remained very quiet on its contents. Is that plan still active and how is it faring?
‘If you go through a lot of it, yes, it is happening,’ O’Donovan says.
‘One issue for instance was the implementation of the strategic plan drawn up by the county board itself and the new chairperson [Tracey Kennedy] is now progressing that. A steering committee has been appointed and I’m chairing the games area, which takes in all the fixtures and coaching elements of the plan. If I’m not buried, my 25-point plan isn’t buried either!’
O’Donovan has now been in his new position of vice-chairman for more than three months. How has he found matters since he joined the hierarchy of the county board?
‘Being chairman of the CCC (competitions control committee) has been my main job as vice-chairman, that’s the main role of any vice-chairperson,’ he says.
‘That also entails relieving the chairperson of a lot of the work that lands on her desk. I love being in the CCC as you get to see the real inner workings of the GAA at county board level, dealing with fixtures, discipline, transfers, amalgamations, single-unit clubs, big club problems and small club problems.
‘How to get the fixture list to run smoothly is the main issue and until you’ve been inside and seen all the problems facing clubs and facing the board then you can’t really expect to find the solutions.’
Since he took over the position, has he found that there is scope for change in the GAA in Cork?
‘Yes, there is scope for change because you now have fresh faces coming into the executive every year and you have the other people who have been there for a time and have the knowledge to keep rein on the likes of me now and again,’ he says.
‘You have that bit of friction and positive friction is a good thing for any association. Push-and-pull politics, I enjoy that. I would never take it personally, some nights you win some battles, some nights you lose, then you move on.’
As we all know 2018 is going to be a difficult year for fixtures in the GAA because of the new set-up at intercounty level. How is the county board dealing with this challenge?
‘It isn’t just the new set-up,’ O’Donovan says.
‘The weather so far this season has been a disaster especially as we had to move our whole programme earlier in the year because of the new directive that April is a club month only. We had to move earlier because if any Cork team gets a good run in the championship, the month of August is going to be absolute chaos.
‘We must get our house in order before that but the weather certainly isn’t helping. I’d have great sympathy at the moments for clubs preparing for championship in April and trying to fit in as many league games as possible beforehand. Most pitches are still unplayable. If you damage pitches further now, you’ll have no pitches right into May.’
The early start to the season saw the divisional and college teams having to play their championship games in March. They also got only one chance and now only one division, Duhallow, is left in the football championship proper. Is that a good thing for football in Cork?
‘We have yet to find a real solution to divisional teams taking part in our championships,’ O’Donovan admits.
‘It didn’t work last season either, forcing them to play in the summer maybe a night after the clubs had played. It’s totally unfair to the players involved. I think this year is a test for everybody as nobody really knows how the whole year is going to pan out, how successful Cork will be, how April will work for the clubs and so on.
‘We’re all working a little blind this year. As regards playing in March, I think it could work if the divisions had their preparatory work done earlier. As regards divisional and college teams, there has to be an overall review by the clubs on whether they really want divisional teams or not, whether they will commit properly to them.
‘We don’t want to see divisions going out playing without many of their best players or proper support from the clubs. We wonder then is something broken in the divisional set-up.’
Cork football is coming in for a lot of criticism recently and results on the intercounty scene have not been promising. Does the vice-chairman agree there is a problem and what is the solution?
‘We must look deeper than the surface problems in Cork football,’ he says.
‘We’d all love to have a successful Cork football team and we all know there is a problem with the standard of football within the county. That’s a problem on all our doorsteps at all levels.
‘The place I’d start would be the club championships, I wonder about the number of teams in each grade. I wonder about the competitiveness. You’ll need clubs to agree to reduce the championship numbers but would turkeys vote for Christmas?
‘There must be strong leadership all-round if the problem is to be tackled properly and I feel if you reduce the numbers of teams at the top level, you will strengthen the teams at the bottom as well.
‘I do feel that people are beginning to discuss the issue honestly at club level at last. Unfortunately, there’s a huge stigma attached to regrading in the GAA, whereas in other sports it’s not a big deal. You can always work your way up again if you’re good enough.’
As regards the divisions, is there a real future for divisions as they are presently constituted, as the county board seems to be taking control of most of the championships in the county right now?
‘I would worry about the future of our divisions, especially as regards officerships,’ O’Donovan says.
‘It’s getting more difficult to get people to take on these jobs, they are thankless positions. In the clubs, officers get an odd clap in the back, that doesn’t happen at divisional level. If we can’t get the proper people to take on these positions, is there a future for divisions in the county?’