CONOR Counihan insists that the back-to-basics approach for Cork football will reap rewards in the future.
It’s two years since he was appointed as Cork GAA’s Project Co-ordinator for Football and he is tasked with overseeing the county’s five-year football plan.
The end goal is for Cork to be regular All-Ireland contenders in all grades of inter-county football, and that’s a work in progress – but Counihan feels if Cork football can teach the basic skills, then it will point the Rebels in the right direction.
‘We are not as far down the road as where we would like to be but at the same time we are making progress,’ Counihan told The Southern Star.
‘We’re making progress on important things like developing better players and, more importantly, getting coaches to put the emphasis back on the basic skills. Kicking, catching, the use of both hands and feet is vital. If we can get that message across over the five years then a lot of the other stuff will look after itself.
‘Our coaching in some areas is very good. Other areas, not so good. The challenge is for us to target the people on the ground in terms of getting those basics right. Ideally, we want players to have the proper skills with both hands and feet coming into (inter-county) squads as opposed to spending time teaching them basics when they do join up.
‘At times, I’m amazed that people take kicking, catching and hand passing for granted or that every coach knows how to properly coach those skills. That’s not the reality from what I see. It is just assumed that it all happens. As I said, some coaches and clubs are excellent when it comes to teaching the basics while others aren’t. That’s why we, in Cork, have got to get back to those basics.’
Counihan and those behind the Cork GAA five-year plan have pushed the importance of mastering those basic skills by introducing various underage competitions. Changing the rules around how underage games are governed is another topic Counihan would like to see altered.
‘The rule at U14 football is currently one hop and one solo,’ the former Aghada club stalwart said.
‘As a start, we would certainly like to see that rule extended to the U15 grade, if at all possible. To me, getting the kicking skills of our underage players right is absolutely vital. So are the other skills but I believe they would follow once a player has mastered the correct way to kick with both feet.
‘There are an awful lot of blanket defences and retaining possession in the modern game. As a result, players have gone away from kicking and resorted to hand-passing. We seem to fall into that from an early age and then it becomes our way of playing. Cork is never going to break down (well organised) teams if we can’t kick the ball properly. You can have all the blanket defences you like but if you have a player that kicks a ball over the bar from 40 metres then you overcome that obstacle very quickly.’
One of the successes at Cork inter-county underage and senior level has been the open lines of communication between experienced managers. Keith Ricken, Bobbie O’Dwyer and Ronan McCarthy have a good rapport and that positive communication has led to an improvement in performances, if not necessarily results, for Cork at inter-county level.
‘We are working closer than ever before at management level but it is never at 100 per cent as people have a certain autonomy within their respective group,’ Counihan added.
‘We are trying to get a focus on particular areas. For example, we ran a recent goalkeeping webinar because we felt that was an area in GAA, not just in Cork, that we haven’t given the proper attention to. A lot of the better inter-county goalkeepers, especially up in the North, would have some sort of soccer background where a lot of specific coaching occurs from underage right up to senior.
‘If you look at the ordinary GAA club scene here, how many of them would have a qualified goalkeeping coach? If you don’t focus in on or put the time into specific positions like the goalkeeper then you are not going to get the results you are looking for.
‘Overall, it is a slow process when introducing a culture change around things but there are a lot of willing people on the ground to carry it out for us.’