AIDAN O’Rourke is no stranger to the Carbery GAA scene. The Newcestown man is a familiar face since he first got involved with his club over 40 years ago. His links to the Carbery Board stretch back to the mid-1990s when he became a club delegate. Now, O'Rourke is chairman of the divisional board at an important time in its long history with many challenges on and off the field. Here, in his first interview as chairman, he chats about a wide range of topics and addresses some of the issue facing the board and its clubs.
GER McCARTHY (GMC): The new GAA season is just around the corner and clubs in Carbery will be very interested to know if the division will field football and hurling divisional teams in the county senior championships this year?
AIDAN O’ROURKE (AOR): Well, that is going to be difficult and there is no doubt about that. I can tell you that it is the Carbery Board’s intention to field both (divisional) football and hurling teams. We need the cooperation of our clubs to achieve that. It is not easy on clubs, I know, because of the tight schedule of games. Look, this year, there is a window of opportunity with the dates for the first rounds of the (county) championships. There is great potential within Carbery. We have some fantastic players right throughout the division both in hurling and football. I think it would be a pity if we didn’t give those lads a chance to play at the highest level. Particularly lads who have never played senior (club) championship before. I believe this (Carbery divisional sides) is a great opportunity for the clubs to improve by letting their players compete at a higher level. Carbery have done well before and I have no doubt that, if we get the structures right, we can do well again.
GMC: It is becoming increasingly difficult for divisions with so many demands on their players. Based on what you have said, do you believe divisions have a long-term future in the Cork senior football and hurling championships?
AOR: The split season means things are getting very tight. For instance, this year, when we looked at whatever time scale we first got to play off the junior championships, we had something like seven weeks which was an impossibility. At one side we had the inter-county going up until mid-July and then at the backend of the year, you had the All-Ireland club series squeezing from the other side. The club player, particularly, the junior club player, is not getting a fair slice of the cake. Cooperation between club managers and players is going to be key when it comes to being released to play for your division. There is no doubt about it. Managers have a role to play and, of course, they want to get the best out of their players. I think, with a bit of cooperation and a bit of common sense, that this can be worked out. I would ask our club managers to think again and think about the value of your player playing at a higher level, what they will bring back to the club and his team mates.
GMC: County board delegates recently voted to inaugurate a county-wide premier junior championship grade by choosing Option B (120 votes) and edging out Option A (99 votes), yours and the Carbery Board’s preferred choice. What effect do you think this decision will have on the Carbery football and hurling championships?
AOR: First of all, we are still only getting our heads around the decision. The Carbery board will be meeting to discuss the outcome at CCC level. Look, whatever is there now, we have to deal with it. We have to go along with it. It won’t be easy. This year, I suppose the fact that there are eight clubs going forward, one from each division, means we have a deadline for the Carbery junior A football final of September 4th. That won’t be easily achieved. It is going to be a pretty rough year on clubs, particularly dual clubs to try and fit in the hurling in between. We will have to look at it but, as I said, this is the option that has been chosen and we have to deal with it, try and make the best of it.
GMC: Were you surprised Option B (a county-wide premier junior championship grade) won because there were only 21 votes in it at the end?
AOR: The vote was tight enough but it was always going to be an uphill battle to get the Option A proposal through, particularly with clubs losing their intermediate status. I imagine that might have been a big reason for the way the voting went.
GMC: You haven’t had a chance to sit down and work out what can be done for the Carbery junior championships. The large number of divisional clubs involved means this is a bigger headache for your committee compared to others.
AOR: It is going to be a big ask and quite difficult but with the club’s cooperation, the vast majority (of county clubs) have voted for this, we have to accept the democratic decision. Carbery clubs are going to have to take on board the fact some difficult decisions are going to be made about when games have to be played or quite close to each other. That’s because one of the end goals is that we have to get our champions out there for September 4th.
GMC: One thing that all West Cork clubs need more than ever are upgraded facilities. Access to a single or even two pitches is no longer sufficient for GAA clubs in a rural region like our own. So, does Carbery GAA need its own all-weather 4G pitch to host its games all year round?
AOR: To be honest with you, we feel that it is imperative. A Carbery GAA all-weather 4G pitch has to happen. The structures that we have at the moment, we were lucky at the end of 2021 that the weather was quite good and we got our games played. The reality is, quite often, at that time of the year, you get an awful lot of bad weather. The Carbery board along with the county board and Croke Park, I think, will have to look at putting up facilities within regions that can be used by all players. Certainly, as chairman of the Carbery board, I am very much in favour of an all-weather facility located somewhere centrally within our division. I think that would benefit every club in the division. Something like that could also benefit the Cork GAA set-ups for training sessions and whatever.
GMC: There was a time when Carbery GAA had plans to try and build their own headquarters, the creation of a regional hub. Are there plans to revisit that particular project?
AOR: First and foremost, the Carbery board is focused on ensuring we have proper championship games and proper structures of those games for the coming year. As you are aware, the last two years of Covid have upset a lot of people’s plans. To that end, on behalf of the board, I’d like to extend our deepest sympathies to all those people who lost loved ones to Covid. It has been a tremendously difficult time for an awful lot of people. Yes, we want to have proper structures and proper facilities. Some clubs already have tremendous facilities and, to be fair to them, are doing Trojan work. I still feel that we (Carbery) need to have a centre of excellence of some sort and an all-weather pitch too, if they can be afforded, down the road. As well as that maybe a museum, a centre that the Carbery board could use as well. Look, they are long-term plans, really.
GMC: One of the biggest issues facing GAA divisions, and not just Carbery, is a lack of referees. What is the current state of available referees to the Carbery board and how will your new task force tackle the issue of recruiting new referees?
AOR: That was one of my aims when I first came in as the new Carbery GAA Chairman. I set up a referee task force to ensure that we can create a pathway for our new, young referees who are refereeing underage games through to adult. We also need to encourage more young people into the refereeing set-up. To be fair, Carbery has a wonderful band of referees. As we all know and have to accept, the age profile of referees is possibly getting a bit high. That’s why we have to encourage more referees into the division. I am asking every club in the Carbery division to look within and encourage any of their young people (to get involved). There are refereeing courses coming up in the next few weeks. With the new refereeing sub-committee that we have put in place, I hope that the state of refereeing will improve. It is a long-term project. Going back over previous years, lack of referees has long been a topic of conversation.
GMC: It is a huge honour to be the chairman of such an important organisation like Carbery GAA in a rural region like West Cork. You would have seen first-hand how important GAA clubs were in their local areas during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
AOR: GAA clubs were hugely important during Covid. I think the GAA can take a bow, in every community, because they came to the fore when they were really needed. We are a community organisation. I have to compliment every club all over the country but especially in our own Carbery division here. They were absolutely outstanding. They looked out for older people, looked out for their neighbours and did whatever was needed to be done.
GMC: How many years of your life have you dedicated to both your club Newcestown and Carbery GAA?
AOR: I have been involved with my club for just over 40 years. I became a club delegate with Carbery GAA in the mid-1990s. I moved on to the old Bórd na nÓg where I was vice-chairman in 2006 before taking over as chairman in 2009. Then we had the transition from the old Bórd na nÓg to Rebel Óg. I was appointed chairman of Rebel Óg West until I finished up in 2016. I had a double role with the Carbery board as development officer and then vice chairman. Now, I have become chairman and I’m honoured to have been given the opportunity to chair such a prestigious board. They are an outstanding board which is nearly 100 years in existence. It is a great honour for my family, my club and myself. I’m really looking forward to the challenge. I must mention my wife, Eileen, who has always been a huge support to me. Our two sons, Damien, who lives in Canada and Gearoid, who is now living in Tipperary have also been a huge support to me as well. We have three grandchildren living in Canada: Addison, Kate and Niamh O’Rourke. In Tipperary, we have two more, Cara and Rua.
GMC: What do you want to achieve in your role as Carbery chairman and who will be the most important stakeholders in ensuring the division progresses during your term?
AOR: First of all I want to address the refereeing situation in Carbery and hope that the sub-committee we have set up can help with the issues we are facing there. Also, we have the 100-year Carbery division celebrations coming up in a few short years’ time. We have already set up a sub-committee to look into that and ensure we celebrate that milestone properly. That’s because it is so important to every one of Carbery GAA’s people. I certainly hope that we get more young people involved in our board. Our board is a good, strong board right now with John Desmond as secretary, Martina Burns is a wonderful PRO who has done Trojan work, and Pat O’Flynn is our treasurer and has a huge amount of experience. We have David White coming in as vice-chairman and I am sure David will give it his all. We are also delighted to have brought in George Gill as our Development Officer. George has great enthusiasm for his role, as does our Cultural Officer Gabriel Crowley. Donal Shorten will be our referee’s Administrator, a very important job, and I am delighted Donal will be chairing the referee’s task force. Our former chairman Tom Lyons is coming in as CCC member and Joe Crowley from Randal Óg will be on the Executive. I want to also take the opportunity to thank outgoing officers Tom Lyons and Donal McCarthy for the years of fantastic work they have given on behalf of Carbery GAA. As for our sponsors, I want to thank them for their support. Carbery Group, RCM Tarmacadam, Bandon Co-op, Clona Milk have been absolutely brilliant to us and remain hugely important to Carbery GAA. Again, their support is vital and we thank them most sincerely for it.