CONOR Counihan has done a lot of good for Cork football, but acting as the project co-ordinator charged with implementing #2024, Cork County Board’s five-year plan for the sport, could be the most important task of all.
Appointed in May of 2019 in the wake of the plan’s publication in January, the Aghada native — one of only two men, along with Billy Morgan, to be involved in Cork All-Ireland senior football wins as player and manager – the Aghada native has enjoyed settling into the role.
“On the ground, there’s an awful lot of work being done quietly by a large number of people in development squads,” he says.
“The challenge that we’re trying to meet is to upskill those people because, if we’re to be effective with the plan, it’s the people on the ground that are going to make that change.
“With respect to inter-county squad managers, they only have the players for a limited amount of time. If we can good coaching and a good structure at the very early ages, the chances of developing to a higher level are much greater.”
His own job, knitting everything together, is a varied one, with no two days the same.
“When I came into the role, we were in the throes of championship,” Counihan says.
“You find yourself spending a lot of time on going to training sessions and building relationships with the management and the teams. Once that’s over, at this time of year you’re into development squads and recruiting good people to get involved.
“You’re also looking at second-level colleges and what you can do there. Obviously, we have fixtures issues but Shane Supple has been appointed to be the administrator of that set-up. It’s not something that’s going to be sorted straight away but hopefully, over time, we can have better planning with our fixtures.
“Certainly, in relation to colleges and clubs, there’s quite an amount of clashing at the moment and that’s not good for anyone.
“Once the squads are up and running, you’re monitoring that and working closely with Aidan O’Connell on the strength and conditioning side of it and linking in with Kevin O’Callaghan and the GDAs on the ground.
“It’s very much a team effort and even though my role is football, there are many parallels with hurling and football.”
Counihan, and the five-year plan, were given a boost by Cork winning both the minor and U20 All-Ireland titles in 2019.
However, the early running of the U20 this year — Cork lost the Munster final to Kerry recently — was not to his liking.
“Cork winning the minor and U20 All-Ireland football titles is massive, for the players and management involved,” he says.
“That’s been a big boost for the profile and with the way the Munster minor football championship is running now, there’s a fair chance that you’ll progress to the All-Ireland quarter-finals, and hopefully further, in the years ahead.
“That’s been a big drawback to Cork football over the last number of years and you can see the benefits from the change this year. They were beaten in a Munster final and got back in and won the All-Ireland, which was fantastic.
“The U20s, there was great work put in. Obviously, we were disappointed with the new set-up and that being run off in March. We had magnificent crowds across the country this year, coming down to Clonakilty and places like that – you were never going to get that in February and March.
“I don’t know what problems it caused in 2019 because it went off in the calendar it was supposed to and I don’t think it affected many things. My big concern here is that, in terms of promotion, that competition is very important for a fella 20 years of age.
“Once they come out of minor, they’re aspiring to step up that and that must be a high-profile competition then to keep fellas involved up to 20 and aspiring to get to senior.
“If it doesn’t have the profile, it doesn’t do that.”
As to the immediate future, he is optimistic that the underage success can translate to senior, but he knows that it’s not something that will happen without effort.
“I’d like to think, with the success of the U20s and minors, that people will see a vision for Cork football that it can compete at the top. We’re doing it at underage and we need to drive it on to senior,” he says.
“I’m not under any illusions, that does take time and I’d urge caution in that area. We have made strides in terms of reaching the Super 8s, but for 2020 the priority has to be to get out of Division 3 and build on the progress of this year.
“I’d be optimistic enough that we can do that. A bit like the politicians, a lot done but more to do kind of a thing!”