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Noel Furlong, Kevin O'Donovan and Brian Cuthbert at the Rebel Óg Coaching Benchmark 2020 Vision workshop. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Noel Furlong, Kevin O'Donovan and Brian Cuthbert at the Rebel Óg Coaching Benchmark 2020 Vision workshop. Picture: Denis Minihane.
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Cork needed fresh voices at the heart of the GAA and Kevin O'Donovan offers exactly that

WHEN Arsenal football club had their AGM a few weeks back the difference in mood between the top table of directors and the shareholders was pretty remarkable, yet not hugely surprising.

The directors painted a picture of media agendas and described the club as overachieving; the fans protested the sense of staleness and lack of any appetite for change and the overwhelming feel of a club without a real direction.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Hector Bellerin during a training session. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Hector Bellerin during a training session. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Basically, they had very differing viewpoints on what constitutes success. The owners pointed to the new stadium, winning an FA Cup, being stable and involved where it all matters, and yet anybody who’s watched Arsenal over any sort of period recently knows there’s something not right when the same mistakes keep happening without being rectified or without even being recognised really as being the same mistakes over and again.

There was something that rang a similar bell last week when Cork GAA made some figures public on the Páirc Uí Chaoimh revamp that led to some very different takes. The county board referenced a fairly hefty shortfall in funds, immediately offered potential ways of maybe making up the difference and declared the whole thing nothing to be making a fuss over.

Picture: Larry Cummins
Picture: Larry Cummins

The Cork GAA public sighed, added it to the list of questions they’re sinking under right now and to the general divisiveness of what ought to have been a straight-forward enough feelgood project.

You’d have to be a curmudgeon not to acknowledge the stadium is impressive. A cost overrun happens in more or less every stadium build.

And yet, there are people inside Cork GAA circles and the general public who reckon there was better money to be spent elsewhere, who could point out what schools and more coaches could have achieved with a fraction of funding or what kind of focus was lost to more pressing issues with the distraction of the Páirc.

James Masters tweeted the shame of having to sell land when land is exactly what could be used for a Centre of Excellence that’d allow space for all Cork teams. It’s not just the Páirc and more than anything it’s just the latest disconnect between those in charge in Cork GAA and those in the clubs and involved around the county and pretty much everybody else outside the top table.

The Cork footballers had to go fundraising in order to equip themselves with the preparation necessary to compete with the elite counties. The county championships need overhauling.

The idea of Cork GAA isn’t a pleasant one and it’s hard to get away from the idea that it’s been left behind by the more progressive counties for some time now.

The core idea of what a board has to do has shifted from running off fixtures and balancing books to providing the right culture for players and clubs and inter-county teams to develop to their best in a really competitive environment, to either develop the expertise or be willing to pass on the responsibility to someone with the right skillset.

There are opportunities to change, of course. Tracy Kennedy’s appointment as chairperson at convention on Sunday was a changing of the guard in many ways and ought to allow some fresh ideas and energies to emerge.

One of the success stories on the field has been the emergence of some very decent young hurlers from the development squads and from talking to coaches and conditioning staff involved with the academy system, this has been Kevin O’Donovan’s influence in a big way as coaching officer. 

O’Donovan has implemented some serious ideas from U14 to U17 and it’s hard to talk to anybody who’s gotten involved with teams or committees, from Noel Furlong to Wesley O’Brien to John Allen, who won’t mention him as one of the most impressive and progressive characters on Leeside.

Kevin O'Donovan, Cork vice chairman, with his wife Adriana. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Kevin O'Donovan, Cork vice chairman, with his wife Adriana. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Now he's come in as the vice-chair. He might not have all the answers but he has the right questions and it’s be a step in the right direction for him to be a major player in the evolution of what Cork GAA must do.

Last summer Arsenal won the FA Cup and the board decided they were happy to stick with their manager when a new start would surely have indicated the necessary shift in mentality; things haven’t really improved or changed all that much.