As Cork GAA began a new era in 2017 with the ofﬁcial opening of Pairc Ui Chaoimh and a new strategic plan, we take a look
at key part of the future of GAA in the county — coaching and games development. Progress in the last 10 years has been vast without ever getting much acclaim as people look at counties such as Dublin, who have a huge number of full-time staff, as do many other counties, when compared to Cork on a pro-rata basis (as a percentage of playing population).
Back in 2007, Cork had two games promotion ofﬁcers in place -Tom Nott, who has since retired, and Noel Crowley, who is still part of the full-time staff. Third—level GAA ofﬁcers were also in place for both our colleges in Cork. At this time, a new games development administrator (GDA) position was created and Kevin O’Callaghan ﬁlled this role before going on to be appointed games manager in 2009. This appointment was made in conjunction with the recruitment of full-time GDA’s. We now have six GDA’s working on the ground in Cork, along with our GPO and our two third—level ofﬁcers, John Grainger in UCC and Keith Ricken in CIT. The main aims of Rebel Og Coaching — re branded from Coiste Oiliúna in 2012 – are to increase participation while optimizing playing standards.
When one casts an eye over participation ﬁgures, there are some interesting changes. While the above statistics show serious progress, the real impact of investment in full—time coaches is seen through workshops with club coaches and the coaching of best-practice messages that help volunteers improve the effectiveness of their own sessions and produce better players. Our Benchmarking 2020 Vision Initiative challenges clubs to develop their coaching structures and provides a pathway for them to develop through the bronze, silver and gold categories. To date, we have 18 clubs accredited in the gold category and it is hoped that by 2020 there will be over 80 clubs at gold standard.
Development squad structures have undergone major transformation in recent years and this is starting to show in performances, particularly in hurling, where we are very competitive at all age groups. Under the guidance of GDA Sean Crowley, our hurling squads have been steadily improving in the last three to four years. This has resulted in consistently high performance levels at all sage groups. A clear highlight for 2017 was the U17 Munster and All-Ireland titles, which reinforced the results at development squads over the last few years.
At competition level, our hurling squads performed well without hitting the heights of previous years. The U14’s were split in to four regions this year, which meant 100 boys were hurling at a high level to the end of August and four teams going in to national blitz days, as opposed to two in previous years. Performances were pleasing, with all teams being competitive despite being split four ways against full county teams. There was a trophy claimed also in the Sonny Walsh Tournament in Waterford. The U15 squad captured the Ted Hanley Cup, beating Limerick, Tipperary and Galway. This group were consistent all year under the guidance of Noel Furlong (Carrigtwohil) and they will be looking to build on this progress in 2018. The U16 squad captured the B-grade Tipperary Supporters Competition while the A team were well beaten by Galway and Waterford but otherwise had been competing well in other games played during the season.
To compliment this, schools such as Midleton CBS, St Colman’s, CBC and so on are all competitive at the top level in Harty Cup. Looking back to the Harty Cup semi-ﬁnal in Mallow between St Colman’s and Midleton CBS in front of a huge crowd was a particularly good occasion for Cork GAA.This form has continued through the 2017-2018 competition with Midleton, St Colman’s, Gaelcholaiste Mhuire AG and CBC all very prominent in the group stages.
In football, our U14’s, like the hurling, remained in their four Regions and all four squads played in the Jim Power Tournament. Performances were very encouraging and giving more boys the opportunity to play at this level will mean a greater spread of players being available to county teams in 2018. Both U15 squads reached ﬁnals in the Humphrey Kelleher Tournament in Milstreet while the Cork White squad won the Plate in the Munster U16 football tournament before going on to beat Tyrone near year-end under the guidance of GDA Pat Spratt.
At the time of going to print, all regional squads are undertaking an eight-week physical development education programme in conjunction with Dr Wesley O’Brien and UCC sports studies students. The structure is being tweaked and reviewed to ensure the pathway for players is delivering quality players to the county teams at U17 and beyond. Have Cork found the magic formula yet? Certainly not, but there has been a monumental improvement in squad structures in the last few years.
So overall, Rebel Og could use the slogan, ‘A lot done, more to do’!