Barry Corkery’s day job is that of senior addiction counsellor at the HSE’s two treatment centres in Tralee.
On the GAA front, the Ovens man served as selector in Keith Ricken’s Cork U20 management team earlier this year.
Prior to getting involved with the U20s, Corkery wore the title of performance coach within the Cork minor set-up, manager Bobbie O’Dwyer enlisting his services during last season’s All-Ireland winning campaign. He carries out a similar role with the Cork ladies footballers.
It is now 49 days since Croke Park suspended GAA activity at all levels. For a cohort of players, the cessation of on-field commitments and ripping up of their typical summer schedule has left a void not easily filled.
Corkery has spoken to a number of players and teams this past month and a half. He’s hearing first-hand the extent to which some are struggling to adapt.
“It certainly is a difficult time for them,” says the behavioural therapist.
For a lot of players, their identity and self-worth is wrapped up in something that no longer exists — and doesn’t look to be returning any time soon.
With no return date in sight, Corkery’s advice is for players to shift their focus away from the collective, away from the team which they are part of, and onto themselves. Now, that is not to be interpreted as instruction to disconnect from the team and the many platforms by which groups are keeping in touch. Absolutely not. The disconnectedness brought about by the shutdown of GAA activity is already challenging enough.
What Corkery means is that when a player is struggling to summon the motivation to get through their third home-workout of the week, they must realise it is not for a far-off championship match they are doing this, but rather their own mental wellbeing.
“That is the important piece; that, ultimately, it is about yourself. The challenge is always against yourself, the battle is always against ourselves.
“It is a frustration when you are trying to train and keep a focus, and you just don't know when you are going to be out again. I am hearing that.
“I did a piece of work there recently with a team who have taken the line that, look, we don't know when we are going to be back playing, but we want to drive on and train because we want to do this for our own mental and physical health. Of course, it is hard to switch [from collective to individual]. Traditionally, training is organised in a group setting. Players miss the camaraderie and banter that goes with the dressing-room. That has been a shock to the system.
“One of the things I have found is players are becoming frustrated at not being able to measure how much progress they are making. Typically through S&C they can measure against themselves and against others where they are at. Some players are picking up niggles because where they would normally run on grass, they now are running on road. These are the frustrations you’d come across.
“I’d be encouraging people to make goals that are time-focused, realistic, achievable, and measurable. Set yourself a goal over the next three or four weeks, as opposed to one between now and Christmas.”
Corkery, who manages the HSE’s two treatment centres in Tralee, has been impressed by the resourcefulness of the GAA community in attempting to adapt to their new normal.
“I have seen a number of teams make contact, via Zoom, with athletes and boxers who would be used to training on their own and tapping into their mindset and just listening to how they would have managed their training times.
“Players are obviously going to be training on their own for the immediate future so being able to adapt in that space is important. Doing it for your own mental and physical health is the priority here.
“It is a very new practice for players, be they club or inter-county level, but the stuff I have seen and heard would really impress you. You hear plenty about the snowflake generation and that kind of trash talk, but the experiences I've had have been far from that. I have been just intrigued as to how resilient young people are.”
Self-care, he added, is equally as important as being adaptable and resilient.
“One of the things I have found from chatting to people is they might have had a routine whereby they picked up the phone and rang a couple of people each day, but very often found it was draining themselves. I'd be really pushing the whole self-care piece and saying, if you have it in the tank, pick up the phone and ring. Communication and contact is hugely important, and people are getting in touch out of nothing else but pure goodness, but pick up the phone to people who might not be getting into heavy duty stuff, so you are basically just shooting the breeze. Regulate your screen time and do what you need to do to mind yourself.”
Corkery paid tribute to his own teams at Brandon House and Edward Court in Tralee.
“In HSE-land, you get loads of attention and we often hear about what we are not doing well, but the work that is being done across the services at the moment, and while I can only speak for my team in Kerry, you would be just blown away by the work being put in.”