THIS is not how John Cleary would have envisaged taking the number one job in Cork football.
The Castlehaven man is in temporary charge of the county senior footballers after manager Keith Ricken stepped down due to health reasons.
Ricken, in his first season as Cork manager, missed the final two games of the Rebels’ Division 2 league campaign through illness and has now stepped aside for the foreseeable future – but Cleary is the ready-made temporary manager.
He joined Ricken’s new set-up as football coach in October 2021 and that was hailed as a coup, given Cleary’s coaching pedigree.
The Haven man himself had been linked to the Cork hot-seat after Ronan McCarthy’s term ended last summer – but Cleary was more of a front-runner two times in the past. He was the standout candidate, the number one option, the heir apparent. In October 2015 it was reported that he was going to succeed Brian Cuthbert and that his appointment was going to get the green light at a county board meeting, but The Southern Star broke the news that broke Cork football fans’ hearts: Cleary would not be the next Cork football boss. He cited time commitments as one of the major reasons for his decision.
It looked like his chance to be Cork manager had passed him by, but now, with Ricken stepping down for the time being, Cleary has the reins of the Rebels for the rest of this campaign.
It makes sense, too. Cleary was Ricken’s right-hand man, has worked with this group, knows the players and the system and has his finger on the pulse. In Ricken’s absence, he assumed control in Cork’s final two league games – at home to Down and away to Offaly – as the Rebels got the two wins they needed to sidestep the dreaded drop.
This is a short-term gig, too, with the upcoming Munster SFC semi-final against Kerry first up and you’ll work hard to find many outside the Cork camp who believe they can ambush the Kingdom. Then it’s the lottery of the qualifiers. But Cleary – and this Cork football team – is in a no-lose situation. Expectations are rock bottom after scrapping for survival in Division 2 of the league, while the introduction of the second-tier Tailteann Cup, which Cork are not involved in, means the Rebels will not get any easy draw in the qualifiers, if they are sent on the scenic route.
Cleary knows he has a huge job on his hands in the weeks ahead, with the shadow of Kerry looming in the horizon, but he also knows how important this season is for what will follow. This isn’t a short-term project. In fact, the outlook for the immediate future is a cause for furrowed brows. The Cork football job is a long-term plan. This is a painful year one, and it’s reassuring that a passionate Cork football man like Cleary can fill Ricken’s shoes until he is back on the sidelines. Ricken said this season that good timber needs time to grow, and Cleary is the man to keep watering the seeds in his absence.
The West Cork native also brings passion and commitment to every job he’s taken on, at club and county levels. He also has the credentials – he won two senior All-Ireland football titles as a player, won an All-Ireland U21 title as manager with Cork in 2009, led the county’s minor ladies footballers to four All-Ireland titles between 2015 and 2019 and has been involved in Castlehaven teams at all levels over the years. He’s currently a selector on the Haven’s senior football team. As one local man said this week, ‘John spent all life driving from Castletownshend to Cork when he was playing with Cork. When he moved away he spent the next 20 years driving down to Castlehaven, involved with teams!’ But that’s Cleary.
He’s well liked and respected. He also doesn’t accept second best. He’s realistic, too; he knows Cork won’t win an All-Ireland this season, but what happens in the weeks ahead is important for this current group’s development. The Cork job is in the right hands now, until we see Ricken back in the fold.
Skibbereen women came, saw and conquered
THE beauty of West Cork sport is that it never stops and the wheel keeps on turning. Every year, every month and every week brings a surprise. New stories emerge. New heroes appear. Like Skibbereen Rugby Club’s first-ever women’s adult rugby team. The latest trailblazers.
This is a team that played their first game in March 2020, against Bantry in the Munster Women’s Development League. This was just before Covid gripped. The following seasons were not ‘normal’ seasons. But this campaign (2021/22) was Skibb’s first full season of adult rugby – and they dominated.
On Good Friday they won the Munster Junior 2 Cup final against Waterpark at Musgrave Park to complete the third leg of a terrific treble. In the weeks beforehand Skibb snaffled up the Munster Junior 2 League title and the Munster Divisional Cup crown. They won every competition they entered.
Women’s rugby in Skibbereen RFC started up with an U15 team in late 2016 and it has taken huge strides since then. The club put the foundations in place with several underage teams before the senior team came online.
‘It was built from the base, from the ground up, and we didn’t take too many big steps too quickly,’ coach Sana Govender told us previously.
Now Skibbereen women’s rugby has taken a huge stride forward this season and is providing an outlet for women in the area to play rugby at a high level. Bantry Bay also compete in the Division 2 league and finished third this season.
The Skibb story shows what can be achieved when ambition, talent and hard work combine. They are one of the stories of the year so far. And they feel this is just the beginning.