Cork County Board CEO Kevin O’Donovan is relishing the challenge on Leeside

Cork County Board CEO Kevin O’Donovan is relishing the challenge on Leeside
Cork GAA officers, Diarmuid Gowen, treasurer, Tracey Kennedy, chairperson and Kevin O'Donovan, CEO, at the Cork GAA annual report for 2019, at Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Picture: David Keane.

FRIDAY evening in Páirc Uí Chaoimh represented something of a new departure in terms of Cork GAA.

Senior figures in the shape of chairperson Tracey Kennedy, secretary/CEO Kevin O’Donovan and treasurer Diarmuid Gowen met the media to invite questions regarding the publication of the annual report, which will be presented to convention this Sunday.

Given that the county was reporting a loss of €559,058 for 2019, it was easily something that could have been avoided, but that they were willing to front up in a show of openness was very refreshing.

As Tracey Kennedy referenced, Kevin O’Donovan had big shoes to fill when he took over from Frank Murphy, but he has given far more than his contract stipulates to carry out the duties of the role.

“I hadn’t really thought about it until someone else said it in another forum but, after 5pm, Kevin becomes a volunteer as well,” she said.

“There are certainly very few days that he finishes work at 5pm and there are certainly very few Saturdays and Sundays off. The effort he has put in, I hope people can see it because it has been absolutely phenomenal.

“The support he has been to me in my role, I can’t even articulate it. As well as carrying his own load, he’s helping all of us, the volunteers, in our areas too.

“I really would like to record my thanks for all that he has done and I’m terrified of my life to meet his wife or any member of his family at this stage!

“He really has done a phenomenal job. He had huge shoes to fill and he has more than filled them.”

O’Donovan’s report was comprehensive and he didn’t pull any punches in areas where equivocation would have been understandable. In his acknowledgements, when mentioning his children he referenced Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road as well as a Nick Cave lyric — presumably firsts for such publications.

While it couldn’t be said that he’s not a true Gael, he’s representative of a modern Ireland where people have other interests and the GAA club’s position as the parish’s main social centre is not what it was. In that regard, the job carries even more responsibilities, especially in terms of reversing the trend of falling attendances. When asked if it was easier or harder than he might have expected beforehand, the answer is not surprising.

“You’d have to say tougher!” he said. “I definitely knew the task. In my third job interview, a one-on-one with a senior figure from Croke Park — someone I have unending respect for — I was asked five times, ‘Are you sure?’

“That was the interview, ‘Are you sure?’ You don’t think you know, but you don’t know, how could you?

“Yeah, it has been over overwhelming. The stadium is the one that gives us all that extra requirement.

“We’re kind of more comfortable in our own field, but when you start bringing the stadium into it…

“We look at our accounts and the €500k and look at the challenges, you say, ‘Yeah, I can see our way through that,’ but then someone mentions the stadium and the costs, then that keeps you up at night.

“I would say that has been the stressful part of it. I suppose what surprised me was that, every time there was an event, I thought there’d be a lag after it, but this is Cork, there is no lag.

“There’s another team the day after, if the county are stopped, the club is on, if the clubs stop then the county want to go back training.

“There’s no lag, but isn’t that brilliant? What an organisation to keep you going 365 days a year. You have to remember they are volunteers, I won’t look for sympathy here because the volunteers do it and they have to go to work.”

O’Donovan made no bones about the size of the deficit or the need to plug that big — or a bigger one, given increased outgoings — in 2020. Nevertheless, he is confident that that improvements can come about.

It’s a big challenge, but the signs are positive that it can be met

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