Saturday 23 February 2019

Colm O'Rourke: 'Cork football left to count cost of serious power failure'

The ambition of Cork GAA is buried in the sand and cement of the new ground — a disgraceful waste of money. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
The ambition of Cork GAA is buried in the sand and cement of the new ground — a disgraceful waste of money. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

When I saw that Cork County Board had a plan for football I thought it was worth reading, if only because there has been little evidence of a plan with anything they have been doing for the last ten years, apart from staggering around like a drunk in the dark without even a lamp post to lean on or pee against.

When Graham Canty, Conor Counihan and Brian Cuthbert lend their name to something, it should be taken seriously. They are men of substance who put in the work to find a way forward.

The report is hardly in the language of those three wise men. It seems to have been written by some PR guru who could have been composing something for a commercial enterprise that wanted to sell sand to Arabs or mask things in a language few ordinary GAA people understand. So we have the same corporate bullshit - stakeholders, supporting pillars, synergy, project co-ordinator, underpinning themes - and so on. Use those terms in conversation with someone from West Cork and they will wonder what you are talking about.

This is the new world. Everything has to be politically correct and nobody can say anything in case somebody else feels bullied or insulted. No information can be revealed in case it breaches GDPR. Soon the country will freeze up in a maze of fear. Nobody says what they think and everything has to be covered by a policy. When, as a school principal, I read reports from the Department of Education, I often wonder is it about young people or is it some elaborate plot to spread total confusion, an excuse to then do nothing. Well, it does work.

Anyway, I ploughed on. There are lots of pictures - more than one of Billy Morgan. Billy is wheeled out now to show how success is possible, but when he was around he was kept busy pulling the knives out of his back. If he was given a central role in advising for the last decade then things would not be where they are now.

So the failure in Cork is one principally of leadership and power. Not that much different from other counties, but Cork should be contenders every year and it is through their own failings that they have been dead ducks in serious matches. A series of poor appointments did not help either, the upshot being that Cork have not reached the last eight since 2014. Cork should be at this stage at least every year, given the resources available.

When I saw this plan being launched I thought it summed up everything about Cork at the moment. Chairperson Tracey Kennedy did her best. She was being interviewed on the new pitch in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and it looked like a herd of elephants had galloped across it in search of a watering hole. Talk about being in rag order. That picture painted a thousand words.

The report spells it out in black and white. One of the 'pillars' is the appointment of two games development officers. It is not two games development administrators that are needed but 22, or maybe even 52. But the ambition of Cork is buried in the sand and cement of the new ground and the disgraceful waste of money which means Cork won't be able to fund the only thing which is important - games development.

When one emperor wants to have a big shiny toy which is nicer than the emperor's next door then something else suffers, in this case it is young footballers. So Tracey Kennedy is a bit late. She and Cork will pay the price for a long time, it is the price of good men and women not standing up for what is right.

The low standing of Cork football will continue, unfortunately, and I feel sorry for Cork footballers who suffer ridicule regularly, most of it coming from inside their own county. As a result, football, in terms of popularity, probably finishes behind hurling, rugby, soccer, point-to-point racing, bowls, pitch and toss, tug o' war and darts. Is it attractive then to wear the red shirt?

The culture shift which is talked about in the report is exactly what is needed, but this is no revolutionary document. The funds needed to make a major difference have been squandered, so instead of 50 full-time coaches making a difference in primary schools while club officials are at their work, the clubs still rely on the generosity of volunteers in the evenings and on Saturday mornings.

Focusing in a big way on eight to 12-year-olds does pay off. Don't take my word for it, just look at Dublin. Their model works because the investment started over a decade ago. While the ordinary club people go about their daily duties, their children are getting high-quality coaching in schools. That is transmitted to the clubs as the full-time coaches train the volunteers in the clubs. It's win-win.

Comparing Cork with Kerry is justifiable. Cork have numbers playing but do not have the same interest or pride in their county team. They also do things differently. Kerry have spent €5-€6m on a training complex which will provide the best of facilities for the preparation of all county teams. Cork spent their money and everyone else's on a ground more for ego and false pride than need. Their county teams are like Tinkers (is that politically correct?) wandering around looking for a field to kick ball in. With the distances of travel involved, the preparation of teams becomes almost impossible.

This does not excuse the timid performances over the last few years when players literally gave up. That is inexcusable, even if it's understandable. A player will normally only be willing to go to the edge when he knows that everything is being done properly and there has been a complete lack of leadership and direction in Cork football for a long time. That is not the players' fault.

The report talks about Cork getting back to where they belong. Where is that? It is out with the washing. They don't deserve to be anywhere other than where they are now.

The administrators have failed the players and once Croke Park gave the go-ahead for Páirc Uí Chaoimh it was the same as saying that the games don't count. Better to have a shiny toy than money for player development. Who made the decision in Croke Park to guarantee money for this monument to stupidity and then throw another €25m after it? I have not seen anyone putting their hand up to accept they made a mistake.

So Cork getting back to winning All-Irelands in 2024 is overly optimistic and the three men who plotted the way forward had at least one hand tied behind their backs. The report talks about new roles, a project co-ordinator - he was needed for Páirc Uí Chaoimh - a high performance director, a junior administrator and a media liaison officer. Will they be paid appointments? It's all a bit vague. Good people cost money. It is all burned at this stage and it is going to get worse.

Most people in the GAA could not care less about the Cork predicament, yet it is of national consequence. The GAA need teams that can compete against Kerry and Dublin, otherwise the whole house of cards will come tumbling down. Cork have plenty of talent and a pool of players that few can match. I certainly hope that the plan of the three wise men works. I would not hold my breath though, unless Tracey Kennedy removes everyone who contributed to the present mess.

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