BY JOHNNY CAROLAN
CORK U20 football manager Keith Ricken has half of his job done ever before the team take to the Páirc Uí Chaoimh pitch for Thursday night’s EirGrid Munster U20FC semi-final clash with Kerry (7.30pm).
At such a level, there is a considerable balance to be struck between winning and developing players for senior level in the future, while there is also the need to ensure that those players are strong people, too. In such a landscape, Ricken is the ideal man for the role.
‘Our job is a developmental job,’ he says.
‘When I got the brief, the most important thing was that we needed to get our top teams up to the standard and the only way we were going to do that was by working guys through.
‘I’m a firm believer in it, I’ve done a lot of talks this year at summer camps and with development squads about the importance of good people and it’s everything. It’s good people that sustain – a ‘good player’ is a very fickle thing, it’s only a veneer, the depth goes on your character.
‘We have put a huge emphasis on finding out their characters and developing them. I’ve two jobs and one job is completely done – I’ve found 36 players and put in a lot of work on developing them and I do think that we’re going to get a lot of footballers from that group, as we have done from the last few groups.
‘Some of them do it almost immediately and some might be slightly slow burners, but we’ve identified guys who will contribute to Cork over the next ten years.
‘That job is done and the second one is try to get the players to have a winning mentality and get the players to have ownership of things. That’s what we’re doing now and we won’t know how successful that is until Thursday evening.’
And, while the scoreboard will have a major say in whether it’s classed as a good or a bad night, Ricken feels that the key thing is that the players learn something about themselves.
‘At the end of the day, the championship is a results-driven business,’ he says.
‘If we don’t play well on Thursday night and still win, if it’s a game we should have lost and still win, if they referee gives us nothing and we still win – obviously, it is about players going out on the field and trying to get a win.
‘That’s my second job, trying to get a win and making sure that the players will do their best and we’re prepared for winning. That’s what we want to do – ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s much easier in the developmental process if you have players coming through who are used to winning and know how to win.
‘But it’s not the be-all and it’s not even at the top of the ladder. The most important thing is, how did they deal with a crisis, how can they deal with things going wrong? Ultimately, there are defining moments in all of our lives and most of those have been when things have gone wrong – what’s the moment where you grew?
‘When do we recognise that we’ve got older? We don’t, we still have the same brain as we had when we were younger and still think about a lot of things the same way – or we think we do but we don’t because we’ve matured.
‘I’m lucky in the job that I have that I can see those moments where they’ve grown and changed. We don’t want to be losing to have a learning moment – we can learn through winning, too.
‘You learn about yourself in the hard moments and every championship game is a hard game.’
CORK (U20F v Kerry): Gavin Creedon (Kilshannig); Colm O’Donovan (Newcestown), Diarmaid Phelan (Aghada), Conor McGoldrick (Éire Óg); Adam Walsh-Murphy (Valley Rovers), Tommy Walsh (Kanturk), Darragh Cashman (Millstreet); Brian Hayes (St Finbarr’s), Evan Cooke (Ballincollig); Conor Corbett (Clyda Rovers), Jack Cahalane (Castlehaven), Niall Hartnett (Douglas); Dara Dorgan (Ballincollig), Colin Walsh (Kanturk), David Buckley (Newcestown). Subs: Cian O’Leary (Douglas), Neil Lordan (Ballinora), Darragh Holland (Argideen Rangers), Luke Horgan (Nemo Rangers), Ciarán O’Sullivan (Kilshannig), Eoghan Nash (Douglas), Seán O’Sullivan (Adrigole), Conor O’Hanlon (Buttevant), Seán McDonnell (Mallow).