Rebel plan can trigger 'peaceful revolution'
Just over 18 months ago Kevin O'Donovan stepped away from a position as a Games Development Administrator with Cork GAA in the Carbery division to become the county's coaching officer.
It involved moving from a job with a regular income to a volunteer role, prompting a return to running the family farm in west Cork which he had been doing on a part-time basis anyway.
By his own admission he's a poor farmer! But he's a passionate Cork GAA man. And by making the move to facilitate getting a seat at the Cork County Board's executive table he felt he was positioning himself best to kick-start what he calls "a peaceful revolution."
"The volunteer versus paid thing is a constant conflict in the GAA because sometimes greater power comes with volunteers, that's the way it should be. I'm constantly torn between the two. But I was happy to step down because I would trade power, in this context, for money any time," he laughed.
He chooses his words carefully, knowing the recent history in the county of strife between players and board officers. Cork, he says needs "revolution not war."
On Tuesday night, he attempted to quicken the pace of that revolution with the distribution of a 16-page document containing 25 proposals at the end of a board meeting that he feels can be implemented for the betterment of Cork GAA. Just one delegate declined.
It ranges from changes to competition structures to the appointment of directors of football and hurling, a head of physical development, extra coaching staff, reform of Rebel óg (the underage academy) into a single entity, co-ordinated and progress player development programmes, establishment of 'Friends of Cork GAA' and stronger links to the third-level institutes in the city. Even a club players' body is mooted.
By yesterday morning such was the response that O'Donovan felt he could have penned another document.
"Already people are writing proposals to add to mine, to clarify mine. This morning I could sit down and write a better document," he said.
"Everybody who contacts me says the same thing. I'm just an ordinary person and so on. There's nobody coming with claims of arrogance, 'You don't know what you're talking about,'" he reflected.
"People are screaming from the roof tops in Cork, people are taking action. These proposals are flying around on a daily basis.
"Any time we do consultation these issues come up through strategic plans or just any kind of meeting. The same issues are coming up, clubs want an organised games programme and all the structures to support that. They want better coaching.
"There wouldn't be anything novel in my proposals but it's the first time someone has put them on paper. There are 25 more proposals you could add to it but I felt we had to lock something down and put it out there to get the debate kick-started.
"People are very concerned because the Cork results are really only an indicator of the malaise of Cork hurling and the challenges in urban areas. Then you have rural depopulation, clubs hanging on."
The irony is, according to the Kilmeen man, that clubs in the county have never been working harder.
"I feel we are working harder than any other county in terms of people with their sleeves rolled up promoting two codes. We have a very diverse county in terms of urban and rural. I now you might find that in other counties but maybe not as extreme.
"I would say other counties have moved to meet the changing needs of the people and we've tried the same tried-and-tested methods. They are no longer working."
He expressed concern to a County Board officer as far back as 2010. "That's the state we're stuck in again. Officers are not acting. Sticking to the tried and tested and basically filling the shoes of someone who was there before them instead of shaking things up and trying a few new ideas," he said.
He said it's wrong that Cork players are now taking abuse for a malaise that he said started "decades ago."
"I really feel for players and management who are stuck in the storm getting all the criticism yet I'm above in the stand with the supporters and I know how they feel. They want a team they can back."
He is hoping for an increase in numbers of coaches "on the ground" and believes there will be financial support for specific projects once the corporate arm can establish "trust."
O'Donovan is adamant he is better working from within the system to implement the change he feels is required.
"I'm in no doubt that unless you engage with the political process, which I hate saying because it is sport, you are at nothing. Unless you engage as a delegate with Cork County Board you're always going to be outside the tent."