Ricken calls for patience in Rebel rising after long-awaited U-20 triumph
Good coaching is made up of small moments, incremental changes in behaviour that add up to one huge result. When it clicks, and you see the fruits of your labour manifest before your eyes, it can be a thing of beauty.
So it was for Keith Ricken, the EirGrid U-20 Manager of the Year. Picture the scene: Saturday afternoon at O'Moore Park, Portlaoise, 12 minutes into the EirGrid All-Ireland U-20 football final. Dublin had come out of the traps like scalded greyhounds, firing over six points in the opening 10 minutes. Then came the goal, a strike from Ciarán Archer that left Cork trailing 1-6 to 0-0.
On the sideline, Ricken watched as Cork's Sean Meehan ran half the pitch back to goalkeeper Josh O'Keeffe. What did he tell him? "Next ball," says Ricken.
"It was a beautiful moment as a coach. We got a short kick-out from that and went up and found the net. It didn't get to them, and it was the spark that ignited our lads."
From there, everything changed. Cork found the net twice in the next five minutes and went in at half-time two points up. The message was a simple one. "Composure," says Ricken (pictured). "Not to panic, keep doing what we're doing, enjoy it and work at it. It's always about the next ball. There was no Braveheart speech about dying for the cause - it was to get organised."
Dublin's attack had run riot on their road to the final, led by sharp-shooting 18-year-old Archer, and Ricken knew they needed to lock things down to take glory. In the second half they kept Dublin to just four points - Cork scored ten - and that defensive master class proved the key difference.
"Defence is not about being cautious even though a lot of people think it is - it's about taking the chance, pushing up, getting the hand in," says Ricken. "It was a collective response that defensively we knuckled up and worked harder and were more gung-ho."
There were emotional scenes at full-time as the Rebels claimed their first All-Ireland football title at senior, U-20 or minor level in nine years. But can it prove the catalyst for senior success?
"Is it the solution to Cork's problems? No," says Ricken. "The solution will be developing a DNA for the type of player we want to come through, the hard-working guys we want. We took a few good steps this year to try achieve that with our seniors, U-20s and minors."
In January a five-year plan was launched with the goal of making Cork's footballers All-Ireland contenders at every grade and Ricken believes what's needed now is patience. "Physically and skilfully we're a few years behind the likes of Dublin, who are exceptional. People can be doom and gloom but the facts are we're going in the right direction. You have to take a step backwards sometimes to take a couple of steps forward.
"I see who's coming through second level and colleges, development squads, what's played at club level - there's a lot of very, very good footballers coming through. It just needs a bit of support and structure and confidence. I'd expect big things from Cork in the next couple of years - I've no doubt about that."
EirGrid, the state-owned company that manages and develops Ireland's electricity grid, has been title sponsor of the U-20 GAA Football All-Ireland Championship since 2015