Stephen O’Brien says expats in Chicago responded positively to the delegation of Cork players past and present who visited the American city last year to “test the water” for the new Cork GAA fundraising group, Cairde Chorcaí.
The Nemo Rangers clubman said the group was keen to differentiate its approach from that of other counties, which might not be building relationships with Irish communities in America.
“A few lads got together to check it out and touch base with the expat community, but very much as an initial phase of this venture,” he said.
O’Brien, who starred on the Cork All-Ireland-winning football sides of 1989-90, stressed the value of having Cork players coaching local youngsters on the visit.
“While we were over we did a couple of coaching sessions — on one occasion we did a session in downtown Chicago, more or less, while the other session was out in Gaelic Park itself. There was a good turn-out and it was a great atmosphere.
“The kids knew the current players, the likes of Paul Kerrigan and Donncha O’Connor, and it went down very well.”
The delegation from Cork went to three functions, fielding questions.
“It was mostly Cork GAA people, or people with an interest in Cork at the functions. They were curious — ‘how are ye getting on?’, ‘how are the teams doing?’, ‘what do ye need?’, ‘what are ye collecting money for?’
“Conor McCarthy put on a great presentation to answer a lot of those questions, and because he was still involved as a senior selector at the time he was able to make the case for having a GPS system in place, the science behind all of that — I found that quite interesting myself.
“The County Board had been fantastic — they put huge money into the teams, no matter what people say, they put that money in. But while Páirc Uí Chaoimh was being built there was pressure on and the football management at that time felt they were struggling to get some extra gear.
“That was the mission statement, if you like. Tony Nation spoke very well also to outline the aims of the group. We weren’t out there saying ‘please give us money’. We just touched base with people and took questions about how things were — ‘how do I know the money will be used properly if I give some’ and so on, perfectly reasonable questions.”
O’Brien told the American audience he was in a similar situation to them: “What I said to people out there was simple — I told them ‘I’m the same as ye, I’m a supporter, what the lads are talking about in terms of resources, I’m interested in learning about that and how we can improve the situation for the teams’.
“We took questions for an hour and a half at one of the functions, and after that Q and A we were there to chat away informally as well. People wanted to know about the club scene as well as the intercounty stuff, so from that point of view it was great because everyone could find out more - lads in America aren’t going to pick up a phone and ring the office of the Board and say, ‘what’s going on in Cork football?’, after all.
He said some of those in Chicago had had different experiences with other counties.
“While we were there we got different stories about different counties coming to the States on what might be seen as smash and grab visits — there for a couple of hours, collect money and then gone. We weren’t doing that.
“I felt the trip went well, particularly the questions, because there were answers for all of them. If you can’t stand over what you’re doing you’re at nothing. The lads — Paul Kerrigan, Eoin Cadogan, Noel O’Leary, Donncha O’Connor — training the kids made a big difference.
"Obviously, nowadays you can follow games from the States far better than years ago, with the internet, so the kids knew the current players well, and that had a big impact. There was a great response to them, and to the trip overall.”
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