New Cork manager Kieran Kingston has one significant advantage as he faces his first season in the hot seat.
He knows exactly what’s involved.
“Having been involved previously, you know what you’re signing up to,” says the Tracton clubman.
“That’s important. It’s not a role I’d have been interested in if I hadn’t been involved before, simply because you don’t know what you don’t know.
“It’s been quite busy. Initially you’re getting your backroom team in place — before the official appointment you’re reflecting on who you’d like to have in with you, but it’s only reflection because you can’t approach people until you have the job. The first few weeks are busy, but that’s the case in any job you take on.”
When Kingston finished playing he took a break and then got involved with underage teams with Tracton. His kids were growing up playing with Douglas so he then got involved with them before returning, in time, to take Tracton’s intermediate side: “Then Jimmy gave me a call to come in with Cork, which probably came out of the blue.”
Jimmy is Jimmy Barry-Murphy. Kingston was a selector with him and gathered valuable experience three years with the team.
“I took on different roles in the backroom, including coaching in my last year with them, and felt management was something I might be interested in if the chance arose, but I didn’t see it becoming an option because I thought Jimmy would stay on.
“I couldn’t tell you it was my lifelong ambition to manage Cork, because I didn’t think it would arise, or if it did whether I’d have the time or capacity to take it on. Only when I became involved with the team under Jimmy did I think, ‘yeah, this is something I’d be interested in’.”
The reference to coaching is significant: Kingston puts skills and drills in a wider context of preparation. “You can read all the books about coaching,” he says. “You can get the drills off the internet if you want, you can watch all the teams you like training — you can see any u-12 team in Cork training and you’d say, ‘that guy’s a great trainer, he has great drills’.
“To me, the big thing in coaching is the purpose of the drills. Are they facilitating and preparing the players for the way you want them to play? Are they becoming better players because of those drills? Also, are you gearing the team’s preparation to peak at the right time?
“That’s a big challenge, peaking at the right time because there are so many demands on them: some are dual players, some are still in college, some are U21s. Getting them right, blending all that together, that’s a big challenge. “Balancing that - that’s the biggest challenge.
“Drills are drills. Our lads are working on their touch, their frees, their striking, by themselves all the time. All inter-county players do that.” He worked under good coaches himself, cherry-picking their best attributes: “The coaches I worked under and with, the way I looked at them was they were all individuals. Some had fantastic drills, others were great motivators: Canon O’Brien RIP was a brilliant motivator. Any manager or coach I worked with — in business or sport — I’d try to take the best from them to use in my own role.
“Until you’re involved yourself you don’t realise the commitment and dedication required — for everyone involved in the set-up, not just the players. That’s true of every team in Ireland, obviously, not just Cork.”
The other element was public interest. Kingston shakes his head when asked about Cork’s run to the All-Ireland final in 2013, or their Munster title in 2014.
“You see it then — the interest, the passion. You realise what hurling is to people in Cork, how much it means to them. That’s something you’d take for granted until you’re in the middle of it.” Last year was different for Kingston. Sitting in the stand gave him a new perspective.
“It’s very different when you’ve been down walking the line yourself as a selector or coach. Would you be a kinder spectator because of that? You would. I suppose a lot of people were disappointed, generally, in last season’s hurling championship, but you wouldn’t feel like that if you were from Kilkenny. The reality is they’ve raised the bar to a different level. That’s obvious. Their manager is the most successful in the history of the GAA, and in the last decade they’ve produced some of the greatest players in the history of the game, and fair play to them.”
And Cork? “We are where we are,” he says. “We’re ranked lowest in Munster outside of Kerry, which is disappointing, but it’s the reality of people’s perceptions of us outside the camp.
“Attitude and mindset can be difficult to gauge — both individually and collectively.
“You can define attitude in different ways, though. For instance, I thought Cork were going better in the run-up to the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final than I’d seen them at any time with the team, and we know how that game went. Sometimes you can get a false read on attitude, too.
“Getting involved with the group, a number of people might have said to me to wait a few years, that it wasn’t a great time for Cork hurling. But it’s an honour to manage Cork, to occupy one of the most high profile positions in hurling, even if I’m biased when I say that. There’s never a better time than now. I believe in the players. I feel they’ve been much-maligned; it mightn’t have worked out for them in the last couple of years, but they’ve put in massive dedication and they only have a Munster medal to show for that. I worked with them, I believe in them.
“I’m delighted with the management team I’ve got around me — their dedication and enthusiasm has been great so far, there’s a good variety and a mix there, and to date the players have reacted very well. I’d see my role as managing their expertise, and help them be as professional as they can be in their individual roles, and to co-ordinate them to the best of my ability. That’s how I see my role.
“We’ll try to prepare ourselves as best as we can and get to a level where we’re performing to our best so we can see where that takes us. I can’t say where that’ll be, but we’ll see where it takes us.”
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