Keith Ricken: ‘I have people meeting me on the street thinking I am getting €100,000'

Cork boss in football for the love of it - and reveals influence of Éamonn Ryan on his coaching ethos.   
Keith Ricken: ‘I have people meeting me on the street thinking I am getting €100,000'

Cork manager Keith Ricken speaks to his players after their defeat in the McGrath Cup Final at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney at the weekend. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Keith Ricken has revealed that he doesn’t receive or want a single brass penny for managing the Cork senior footballers.

In a most wide-ranging and illuminating hour-long chat with the new Cork manager yesterday morning, Ricken said he is “vocational by nature” and that to take money for a role he loves would be to go against the values of the GAA as he sees them.

The Cork manager said he is neither “naive” nor “stupid” to think that every other manager involved in the GAA is also giving of their services for free, but said it was not his place to judge those that were receiving payment for standing on a sideline.

“I don’t get a brass penny for what I do. None of the people who are involved with us do, with the exception of maybe your strength and conditioning people or the physio. We just do it for the love of it,” Ricken insisted.

“I say that because I am no different to the Junior B fella who has taken over a small team in West Cork, or anywhere else, and is giving his heart and soul to it.

“I have got letters, people ringing me, talking to me, and meeting me on the street thinking I am getting €100,000 a year and so I should come up with the goods, and that I get bonuses for this and bonuses for that. I get Jack shit; that is what I get. But we don’t want it. We do it for the love of it and we also do it because we also believe in sport that we can make a difference.

“I’m not saying people shouldn’t charge. That’s my nature, I like to give freely.” 

The 2019 All-Ireland winning U20 manager said this mentality of give rather than take was, in part, shaped by the late Éamonn Ryan.

“I spent 10 years travelling the roads with Éamonn, just the two of us in the car. That’s a lot of precious time. I’ve got the best mentorship from the likes of Éamonn and others. And I see how happy and content they were in their life by giving, not by looking at how much they were worth or how many likes they got on Facebook. They were just happy to give and be getting on with it.” 

Ricken said it was never his ambition to manage the Cork senior footballers and when asked if he was surprised to emerge as the preferred choice of the Cork GAA selection committee last October, he replied: “I’m surprised I’m alive at 52 years of age, to be truthful with you. I’d a couple of near-death experiences.” 

Asked to expand on this latter remark, the GAA development officer at MTU Cork said: “I have had some health issues over the years and it was tough going and tough calls there sometimes. How it has affected me is that I don’t take anything for granted, I don’t take anybody for granted either. I try at all times to have a purpose in life.

“I think when you hit the last page earlier than you thought you would and you get a chance then to go back a few pages, it does lead you to think what do you want to get out of life and that you leave some form of just a little tiny dot of difference in people’s lives.” 

With the Cork players he’s working with presently, his desire is to help them create a “sense of self” whereby they view themselves as people first and footballers second.

One Cork player he won’t be working with in 2022 is Mark Keane, the former Australian rules footballer opting to throw his lot in with the Cork hurlers after cutting ties with Collingwood.

Ricken took issue with the suggestion that the provider of the winning goal in Cork’s 2020 Munster SFC semi-final victory over Kerry had now “turned his back” on the county’s footballers.

He added that had the Ballygiblin hurlers not gone on the run they have - they play in the All-Ireland Club JHC final early next month - then Keane, who is at centre-back for the Cork and Munster club champions, would have ended up with the Cork footballers this year.

“There is no such thing that it’s in his DNA to be a footballer, a hurler, or whatever. I’m sure that if Mitchelstown had won the county (they lost back-to-back Cork IAFC deciders in 2021) and Ballygiblin hadn’t won the county, he’d have been back playing football and he’d have fallen in love with football. But he didn’t, he’s falling in love with hurling and it’s a great buzz for him now.

“It’s not a loss for the Cork footballers. I’d never see it that way. It’s too simplistic and it’s kind of stupid talk, to be truthful with you. It’s a young lad wanting to play sport and it’s great. It’s a pity he can’t play both, but the way the calendar is and the demands of the game, you just can’t play two sports. But there’s no other side. I’ll be down supporting Cork hurlers and I’ll be supporting Mark.” 

While not expressing outright opposition to the green option to reshape the football championship, Ricken has concerns with a proposal that maintains a strong link between the provincial championships and All-Ireland series.

“I worry about in the green proposal where is third-level going to fit in. I worry in the green proposal are they still relying on provincial structures. There is a political thing going on and all that kind of stuff. I understand all that, but that is way out of my remit.

“I have always felt that the future of Gaelic football in Ireland is the national competition. And I have always felt it would be great to get out of this looking over the shoulder every year at the same opposition and every year seeing can we beat them this year.

“We are bigger than that and we are better than that. I see at third-level and second-level where open competition is great for people and they really enjoy it. If we can get competition that is opened up, I would like to see that too.”

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