New coaching voices are always needed to ensure the GAA keeps evolving

New coaching voices are always needed to ensure the GAA keeps evolving
Ben O'Connor celebrates scoring Cork's second goal in the drawn 2010 Munster hurling final against Waterford at Semple Stadium. He is now Midleton manager, having guided Charleville to senior. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

ONE of the more interesting elements of the Stephen Kenny appointment as Irish football manager has been the basic concept of the possibility of a new way of thinking about the national team. 

It feels like this link to the past has been there forever, this slightly nostalgic attempt to recreate styles and feelings that were of their time perhaps. 

Jack Charlton’s influence was by its nature strongly felt. Mick McCarthy was in that first wave of players who was formed in many ways by those glory days.

Steve Staunton moved back towards those times when he was in charge. Trapattoni and Martin O’Neill were still working towards their own ideals from the 70s and 80s anyway, even if they weren’t Jack-related. 

Brian Kerr hadn’t been able to convince what his idea was meant to be. 

Mick part two didn’t have anything in it to suggest he’d moved on exactly. 

You can see why there’s a bit of hope and excitement (misplaced/naive or not) about a guy who doesn’t have any links with traditional Irish football ideas and who’s coming from things slightly differently here.

The most striking thing looking at it now is that it took so long to move on.

The GAA is no different in its traditions and if it’s a natural enough tendency to look back towards the more successful times in the county for direct inspiration, it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in Cork. 

Look at Galway football who’ve bought into Padraic Joyce and John Divilly and the St Jarlath’s connection. 

Armagh are still heavily leaning towards their glory era with Kieran McGeeney. 

Look at the Cork football lineage over the last 30 years and obviously Billy Morgan’s been the main influence. 

At club level alone there hasn’t been a player or manager with Nemo who didn’t come through his teaching in some form along the way. 

At inter-county level, obviously the golden 1987-85 era was Morgan’s directly, but even everything afterwards has his fingerprints on it. 

Tompkins took over immediately, was from that time of course and came from a similar place in his level of passion and commitment to winning. 

The next All-Ireland win of 2010 was both directly from Morgan’s second coming in charge, where he pushed a whole new group of players to begin believing they could win titles again, and indirectly through Conor Counihan, another player from that initial Morgan era and who again carried that same belief and character that Cork could achieve if they were so minded. 

They might have all had slightly different ways of looking at the game style-wise and Cork hasn’t had a particular recognisable way of playing that’s linked eras in the same way that maybe Kerry or Tyrone would have. 

If you were to put a finger on one key element of Cork football most successful teams it’s probably attitude more than technical or tactical – they’ve had good players as a starting point of course, but Cork’s wins of 1990 and 2010 were as much a triumph of mentality and pure want. 

That’s Morgan’s legacy. 

A few points on this. 

It’s pretty amazing that this generation of Cork GAA is still being directly inspired by Morgan at both Nemo and UCC. 

Luke Connolly credits Morgan with the turnaround in his football career that brought him from potential to inter-county breakout. 

Luke Connolly celebrates with Nemo legend Billy Morgan. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Luke Connolly celebrates with Nemo legend Billy Morgan. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Look at all the players on the current Cork panel who’ve played for him with UCC in recent years, the captain Ian Maguire and all the young bucks coming through with piles of energy and snark. 

Also, the generation of coaches/managers from that first Morgan era of players has more or less had its time now with varying levels of influence – guys like Niall Cahalane and the Davis brothers and Steven O’Brien were involved with their clubs with some successes, the Cork U21s won an All-Ireland with John Cleary as manager. 

Counihan, of course, is the leader of football in Cork currently, in charge of the five-year plan and if that doesn’t quite come down to laying out his own ideology for how football should be played by all Cork teams, he’s certainly got the call on who can most influence the next 20 years. 

There are calls on the sort of direction to take, on who exactly is handed the keys to Cork football and what their connected background might be, if any.

The 2010 group haven’t clicked into those sort of roles yet to any great extent (some are still playing, some like Paudie Kissane have already had an impact across several teams and levels) and it might be worth keeping an eye on where they go with their influences here, a group of players who had come through most their times under the era of Morgan/Counihan but who perhaps were exposed to a more tactical game as well. 

There are some obvious contenders from that group who it’d be a surprise not to see involved at club and county level in the coming decade let’s say. 

Slight aside, this works for the hurlers in a different, possibly more influential way where that group of players from the mid-00s who had very specific ideas on how to play might begin to alter the direction of Cork hurling a little – where Donal Óg and Seán Óg and Tom Kenny are with Cork underage teams, Ben O’Connor’s involved at club level, Pat Mulcahy has worked across various sides, this has to transfer at some stage. 

It’ll be worthwhile finding out just how much that Cork hurling generation can – if they want to – push Cork hurling in another direction in the coming years.

The Cork U20 football management that won an All-Ireland last year had one player from the 1999 and 2010 finals (so again, direct links with Morgan and Counihan) but there’s been a real movement towards the colleges now as well. 

Keith Ricken, Cork U20 coach, speaking at the GAA Games Development Conference. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Keith Ricken, Cork U20 coach, speaking at the GAA Games Development Conference. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

CIT have had Keith Ricken and now Cian O’Neill with major inter-county roles. 

UCC have brought in some former players to be involved with fresher and Sigerson teams. 

It could well be that new clusters emerge through the colleges where fresh voices and coaches are given a developmental role in shaping Cork football and/or coaches from the ex-player school are given access to the colleges as a learning experience and there’s a natural environment of idea sharing and learning.

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