‘The Cork job jumped off the page, it really excited me...’ Aidan O’Connell on his key new GAA role

‘The Cork job jumped off the page, it really excited me...’ Aidan O’Connell on his key new GAA role
Cork GAA high performace manager Aidan O'Connell. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

MUCH of what happens in life is about timing. Take Cork’s new High-Performance Manager, Aidan O’Connell, as an example.

He was part of the first class in sports science in UL and then studied some more in Edinburgh.

There, O’Connell came under the direction of American Mike Stone, who was regarded as the godfather of strength@conditioning.

He knew a guy in Yale University, where the Ballyclough-native worked for a year in their sports department, ice hockey, American football et al.

“I had a vision that I wanted to be involved in sport and coaching and it was really completely by chance that sports science came up.

“I was drawn towards strength and conditioning. I was interested in physical performance and how to optimise that.

“Over time, then, I took a more holistic approach, like the health aspect, the mental aspect and the technical side of things, as well.

“Sometimes you can get lucky in life. When I came back Liam Hennessy in the IRFU advertised an Ulster position, which I didn’t get, but got a job with Leinster for three years.

“But, before I went there I spent three weeks with Munster which coincided with Paul O’Connell’s first day at training,” he said.

Then, the Cork job was advertised and O’Connell knew this was for him, timing.

“It jumped off the page immediately and there were three main things which excited me about it.

“I’m a Cork-man through and through. There is a lot of talent in Cork in terms of coaches and players and I felt I could add value to that.

“And I’m excited about the vision that Kevin (O’Donovan) and the board have.

“All those factors combined, and the fact that I wanted to challenge myself as well, were the chief reasons.

“I think everyone wants to try and move to the next level. I believe I have the experience to implement strategy.

“Timing is a big factor. The bus comes along at the right time and you just want to jump on.

“It’s part of an evolution. I think you just want someone to make sure everything is aligned.” 

He starts a week there on Monday and will continue meeting coaches, team managers and finding out what’s going on on the ground.

“This time of the year managers are building their teams, so who do we want on the bus or maybe people getting off the bus?

“It’s having a lot of conversations, being a service provider to all the teams and putting that jigsaw together,” he added.

O’Connell is putting all the experience and know-how gained over the years to build a winning team behind the scenes.

“I’ve made a lot of phone calls inside and outside Ireland, places like Australia and Japan, and talking to people who are interested in helping Cork.

“It’s trying to get the right talent available and how to use them properly. It’s one part of the performance puzzle. There’s nutrition, medical and physios, as well.

“We are playing catch up here, but we can accelerate quickly. There are a lot of Irish people involved in sport in Australia in particular. And they will be coming back here and adding value.”

Gone are the days of four strength and conditioning coaches in as many years as was the case with the Cork footballers. O’Connell wants everything linked.

“There will be fitness testing procedures, starting at U15 and all the way up along with everything aligned and connected.

“People working with us will suit the philosophy of high-performance systems and trying to avoid renegades, people coming in with their own philosophies.

“It needs to be structured so that it can grow. I’ll oversee all that, supporting it and then challenging it.

“We’ll review it, see what is working and what is not. What was happening with inter-county teams that there was so much change, like four S&C coaches in four years with the footballers.

“I’ll provide stability. I have a clear idea what’s needed.”

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