THE LAST WORD COLUMN by Sports Editor Kieran McCarthy
PERHAPS it was Ger Lane’s parting gift, and if so, it’s an admirable one.
He has opened the door, albeit slightly.
‘Any funds raised that help Cork teams is to be welcomed,’ the outgoing Cork County Board Chairman commented last week when quizzed about Cork Senior Football (CSF) Funding Co Ltd.
That’s a nod of approval.
As endorsements go, Lane’s was the latest and most significant as CSF Funding’s reputation and stature grows, but so too does the intrigue.
Snippet by snippet, we’re getting a clearer picture of CSF Funding but it’s still shrouded in mystery as it operates in the background. But what we do know is this company, formed in early 2016, stands independent of the county board, an important point we’ll return to.
What we also know is that CSF Funding’s mission is a noble one: in the absence of an official supporters’ club here in Cork, this private company raises much-needed resources to help fund the Cork senior footballers keep in touch and compete with the leading counties that have raced away from the Rebels in recent years.
The company at the heart of this movement has two former players and two current players as directors and if we look more closely, it has already made a difference to Cork football, even if the results don’t yet reflect it.
It has been reported that one of the primary areas in which the company has contributed has been in the resourcing of the conditioning levels of the squad to match the top teams. Over the last 12 months, there was a noticeable improvement in Cork’s conditioning, fitness and work-rate. By opening new revenue streams across the Atlantic, CSF Funding has played a leading role, making its presence felt in such a short time-frame.
Right now, there’s a distinct gap between the top counties and the chasing pack. In recent seasons, Cork have been in the latter. The conditioning and fitness levels of players has never been as important when you hear stories that Dublin and Mayo players in the middle eight are capable of individually covering 14kms each during 70 minutes. At the end of the 2016 championship, it’s reported that only two Cork players broke the 10km barrier on match day; that’s a massive difference between winning and losing.
Something had to change, and it did in this past season, for the better.
Recently, a former Cork footballer heavily involved in getting CSF Funding off the ground remarked: ‘We all talk about kick-outs, tactics, scoring, etc., because they are very visible things but the conditioning of top squads and the resources being invested in those conditioning models is the primary issue. Everything else comes after that.’
Armed with the knowledge of what needs to be done and with a passion to make a difference, CSF Funding stepped in and partly funded Global Positioning System (GPS) monitoring for Cork football training last season. Before that, Cork coaches only had access to GPS data from games but with training monitored last season, it allowed the coaching team to tailor each training session, and it’s felt that fitness levels rose significantly, to the extent that by the end of the 2017 championship, the fitness levels of Cork’s middle eight were almost comparable to Mayo and Dublin.
For another clear indication that the CSF Funding has played a direct role in improving Cork’s fitness levels, compare the results of the Cork football team from 2016 to 2017 in games that were decided in the final ten minutes.
In 2016, four games went down the stretch – Dublin (league), Kerry (league), Tipperary (championship) and Donegal (championship) – and Cork lost all four. In 2017, any game that went into the last ten minutes of 70, Cork either won or drew (Galway, Meath, Down, Waterford, Tipperary and Mayo); that’s another sign that fitness has improved.
That significant step in the right direction can be traced directly back to CSF Funding making resources available that can make a difference.
This funding body is making its presence felt by investing in GPS monitoring, purchasing a wattbike for pitch-side rehab, helping set-up the gym and training base in Fermoy by doing the ground work, covering the cost of training weekends ahead of the championship, and, crucially, releasing funds for a second physio.
Back in early 2016, in his first season in charge, former Cork football manager Peadar Healy reportedly had 17 players on the injured list. This doesn’t compare well with Dublin and Mayo who came into the All-Ireland finals of 2016 and 2017 with no absences through injury in either squad. However, with the introduction of a second physio – resourced by CSF Funding –Cork’s injury situation improved drastically. Eventually, almost two years later, Cork’s injury rate was down to zero by the time they played Mayo in the Gaelic Grounds in July 2017 (apart from long-term injury Brian Hurley). Again, there are visible signs of progress.
We’ve now gone from a situation where Cork’s fitness levels were well off those of Dublin and Mayo whereas now they are almost comparable thanks to investment in a conditioning model. The money CSF Funding raises helps to level the playing field and it’s allowing Cork access to the resources, facilities and expertise it needs to compete.
CSF Funding is helping to close that gap because Cork allowed itself slip behind, having been in a good position in the late noughties before the county took its eye off the ball.
Factor this in, too. Aidan O’Connell, now with Munster Rugby, was Head Strength and Conditioning (S&C) Coach with Cork from 2008 to 2012 when the team was successful but from 2013 to now, there have been five different S&C coaches; where’s the consistency in that? There’s no cohesion, whereas Dublin have Bryan Cullen as the county’s High Performance Manager overseeing a structured approach in the capital while Mayo boast the highly-rated Barry Solan (also involved with Arsenal) as their Head of S&C. Again, Cork were left behind, but CSF Funding is helping close that gap.
They’ll hope to raise more finance this weekend when they fundraise in San Francisco, like they did in Chicago last year, and there are already plans to host similar fundraisers in New York or Boston in 2018.
The innovation of CSF Funding is to be applauded, tapping into the Cork diaspora in the States to raise money, like other counties have been doing for years. In 2015 Kerry GAA returned from a fundraising venture in New York, Chicago and Boston with over €1,000,000 that went towards the Kingdom’s Centre of Excellence.
Now, consider the size of Cork, the number of GAA clubs (approx. 260), the commercial opportunities that exist at home and abroad and the spread of successful Cork businesses and people across the county, country and globe – there are revenue streams waiting to be tapped into.
CSF Funding is in its infancy but there is goodwill and generosity towards it, and that’s because it’s independent of the board. Whether the powers-that-be in the corridors of Páirc Uí Chaoimh like it or not, a fundraising vehicle separate from the board will pull in more money than one created by the board.
The one thing that has emerged quite clearly from CSF is that the company wants to work with the board but they cannot allow the growing force they’ve created to succumb to the board. When you consider the people involved, you know that won’t happen.
Along with some hard-nosed commercial figures that have helped to get this movement off the ground, noticeable GAA people like Tony Nation, Sean O’Brien, Conor McCarthy and Nicholas Murphy are just some of the GAA names that have been mentioned so far. They are all steeped in Cork GAA and want what’s best for Cork GAA, as CSF Funding intends to spread its wings and assist the hurlers, too. Long-term, it appears that the grand plan is to help provide funds for a centre of excellence here in Cork; that’s badly needed.
O’Brien (Nemo Rangers) and Murphy (Carrigaline) are part of a three-man finance committee that also includes Diarmuid Lynch (Ballyvourney), and they oversee the spending of the funds raised.
The company looks to have a very solid and transparent structure in place that sees them work with the senior football manager, which was Peadar Healy during his reign, and he was a big fan. Those extra resources helped Cork progress last season, even if the results have not fully reflected it yet. Still, they pointed the ship in the right direction.
It’s imperative now that new manager Ronan McCarthy builds on the conditioning and fitness gains from 2017 as he begins his three-year reign.
The good work on the training pitches these past 12 months cannot be allowed fall through the cracks. Cork made gains, their conditioning improved and that will help them to eventually compete with the big boys; maybe not win an All-Ireland in the next few years but at least be in the conversation.
And, no doubt, CSF Funding will be in a lot of conversations from now on, and all for good reasons.