A county ‘gasping for change’: All-Ireland winners help Cork set out its football vision to 2024

Cork captain Graham Canty lifts the Sam Maguire Cup after the 2010 All-Ireland SFC final. Picture: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Cork GAA leaders have committed to a wide-ranging root and branch review of football in the county in a bid to stoke passion and rekindle success at national level in the code.

The five-year plan up to 2024 will be resourced by a number of key appointments who will oversee development, progress and talent in Cork from schools up to elite level.

“Our greatest challenge now is to change the culture surrounding football in our county,” Cork GAA chair Tracey Kennedy said at Wednesday’s strategy unveiling in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. “We must transform apathy into interest.”

That apathy has spread since the Rebels last won an All-Ireland in 2010. Before that Cork hadn’t won a football All-Ireland since the double year nearly 30 years ago.

All-Ireland winners Conor Counihan and Graham Canty were part of the working group along with Brian Cuthbert and Ms Kennedy. The trigger for the new direction is not just the slip into mediocrity in recent years – Cork have only beaten Tipperary, Clare, Limerick, Longford and Sligo in championship since 2013 – but the drift of support from many supporters in the county.

“Recent lack of success on the football field, or more accurately a lack of even the hope of success, has led to a rise in apathy amongst our supporters”, the chairperson said, “perhaps as a means of lessening the pain of constant defeat. If we don’t care, it can’t hurt us.

“This plan seeks to reboot that sense of ‘Corkness’ in our players, our clubs and our supporters, and to include all who are passionate about Cork GAA in that recovery.

“The GAA has been an inherent and inextricable aspect of the Cork psyche for generations, and Cork GAA success has contributed hugely to those essential elements of ‘Corkness’ recognisable to all our rivals: that air of confidence just on the right side of arrogance, an unparalleled pride in our county and our insatiable desire for Cork to be the best at absolutely everything.”

Ms Kennedy added: “We want to see Cork football rise once more to the heights it should reach, leading the way in terms of both performance and participation, and setting an example to all our rivals. In our vision, everyone who is passionate about Cork football; players, coaches, administrators and supporters, will work together to ensure the implementation of this plan and the delivery of the desired outcomes, and pride will be restored in Cork football.

Simply put, our vision for Cork football embodies a sense of honesty with spirit, a sense that we are Cork and we can achieve what we desire, a sense that as a people we are unique and that our teams will represent that sense of difference and determination inherent in our Cork DNA.

The key objectives, in their simplest terms, as set out in the document underline • Improving the standard of football played in Cork, both at club and inter-county level; • Improving football infrastructure in Cork at all levels;

  • Increasing the competitiveness of club championships in Cork, particularly the Senior Football Championship
  • Ensuring a clear player development pathway for inter-county players
  • Increasing support for Cork football teams and improving the overall perception of Cork football

To turn those aspirations into reality, Ms Kennedy said, would mean:

  • Cork will be regular All-Ireland contenders in all grades of inter-county football, including club championships, within three to five years
  • Support for Cork football and the profile of our inter-county footballers will grow significantly within one to two years
  • A clear player development pathway will be created by the end of 2019, producing a regular supply of quality footballers within the next five years
  • High-quality coaches with a strong focus on developing the fundamental skills of the game will be available in all clubs, along with a support network for those club coaches led by the county games development staff, by the end of 2024
  • A county championship structure which supports this work will be in place within three years
  • A clear over-arching vision/plan for football in Cork which is communicated to and understood by all involved in the game
  • A well-resourced administration fully supportive of this plan and driving its success

Given the well-ventilated finance problems of Cork GAA as a result of the Páirc Uí Chaoimh redevelopment, some will take a jaundiced view of the pledge to make a series of appointments, some salaried, as part of the 2024 vision, but Tracey Kennedy said that key amongst their objectives are a number of critical appointments that will help deliver many of the actions contained within this strategy.

The appointments required for the delivery of the plan include a Project Co-ordinator to oversee its delivery; a High Performance Manager who will oversee and develop the sports science elements of team and athlete preparation necessary for readying players for the rigours of modern inter-county hurling and football; a Talent Identification Manager to work on the player development pathway at underage level; a Junior Administrator to support the work of Rebel Óg, and a Media Liaison Officer which will be an intern role working on the promotion of our Senior football team. It is also recommended that the delivery of some of the key strategies in relation to coaching and coach provision would form part of the duties of two imminent GDA appointments.

The report states: “While the majority of these appointments have already been budgeted for and will ultimately result in cost savings due to economies of scale, and it is envisaged that the Junior Administrator role will be funded by Rebel Óg, the plan also includes a funding pillar with a view to generating any extra finance that may be required to support the plan.”

The plan is a ground-up project with a determination that football is taught in all primary schools in Cork as part of the PE curriculum and that all primary schools offer Gaelic football as an after-school activity.

At club level, there is strong backing across the county for a better-structured, higher-quality county championship and county league system, Ms Kennedy said. “The need for change to our competitions structure was a major trend in the submissions we received.”

The thorny issue of players from outside the county participating with UCC and Cork IT in the SFC is also raised, but whether the failure at Convention of a motion to remove the colleges from the senior grade renders that discussion moot remains to be seen. “It is imperative that the apathy is tackled head on”, the Cork GAA chair said. “Our vision is founded on the realisation that our people are gasping for change. Our stakeholders want their voices heard and listened to. Currently, they feel disconnected from our teams and from our administration.

“Yet despite this feeling of disconnection, Cork GAA is renowned for the levels of support it receives from its followers. In order to receive such support in the future, we must reignite the passion of our people. Integral to reigniting such passion is engagement with our people. This engagement must be delivered with a new brief – developing Cork football as a live and vibrant brand. It is our opportunity to drive Cork football in a new direction and out of the shadows of competing codes within our county and country.”

Added Conor Counihan: “The resources being applied will be of major benefit but these are worth nothing without the support of the people on the ground. This is an opportunity which we all need to embrace for the good of Cork football.

Graham Canty concurred, saying “This plan offers Cork football an opportunity to once again scale the heights in the club and inter-county arena.”

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