Colm O'Neill will bring a fresh perspective to the U20 management set-up

Colm O'Neill will bring a fresh perspective to the U20 management set-up
Colm O'Neill driving at goal. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

A few weeks ago Patrick Kluivert appeared on Monday night football and was asked the easy question everybody who played with Barcelona in the 1990s gets about Pep Guardiola: was he always an obvious future manager?

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

Of course, Kluivert said as he explained about Guardiola’s organisation and awareness on the field and it’d hard to ignore that there was something definite in his positional intelligence and play at the time that suggested fairly clearly he was more likely a safer bet to change the game of football as a tactical coach than say Romario or Figo.

Guardiola’s one for the great-player-equals-great-manager list and if there’s little of an exact science and plenty of examples the other way, there’s an ongoing argument here on if being a top player should be a pathway to management/coaching.

It’s always interesting for example to see the wish lists as possible managers/coaches when Cork jobs come up and when Colm O’Neill’s name popped into the radar as an U20 selector during the week, there was an overwhelmingly positive reaction.

O’Neill finished up with Cork last summer, his last memory and contribution a few minutes at the end of a ghost Munster final, lingering in the Páirc afterwards as David Clifford came over for words of admiration.

Picture: Denis Minihane.
Picture: Denis Minihane.

I’m not sure you’d have picked O’Neill as the first player at the time to shift straight from ex-player to selector with a Cork team within nine months and yet there’s so much to draw on that shouldn’t be lost to Cork football.

Where else would you get a knowledge of what’s needed to come from an unknown football area and become a Cork footballer, how to develop a free-taking routine and block outside noise to kick last-minute frees in a Munster final, how to win U21s and senior All-Irelands, how to recover from serious injury setbacks, how to explore movements and spaces to create goal chances, how to play as an inside-forward against different defensive set-ups and markers.

That’s before we talk about processes to avoid, the reality say of being a Cork forward starved of meaningful possession and you sense that O’Neill would have plenty to advise on all the on-and-off field problems this past four or five seasons that have stopped Cork becoming any kind of dominant force in Gaelic football.

It doesn’t always work, where basically for all the Guardiolas, there are Gary Nevilles and Thierry Henrys, top elite players who haven’t been able to transfer that to management or coaching. There’s always something a little fanciful about the idea that a player with a certain skillset or mentality can necessarily just transfer that onto a group of minor or U21 or even senior players with no regard for differences in culture or types of players or simple ability to impart knowledge that might be instinctive anyway.

One well-regarded coach we spoke with recently completely wrote off the idea of former players getting coaching jobs based on their achievements as players and there’s a serious gap sometimes between the expectation/wish that say a player who was a tough, tight-marking corner-back will be able to create a bunch of tough, tight-marking corner-backs without the necessary coaching experience or interest.

Cork has a mixed history itself in ex-players achieving from the sideline.

Of the 1990 All-Ireland team, one went on to win an All-Ireland as manager, another went to a final, another won an U21 All-Ireland, there’s at least one club senior county title and a handful of other reasonable jobs with schools/clubs.

The current inter-county manager is from the 1999 All-Ireland final team, with a bunch of that side having been Cork senior selectors also and maybe two decent club jobs across the group.

Of the 2008-2012 team, we’ve seen a handful involved with some development squads and it’s been mentioned now as an active recruitment plan, to get interested retired intercounty players with something to offer involved in working with younger players especially, not as head coaches mainly but with specific roles to play in attacking or defensive areas - we’ve seen defenders like Diarmuid Duggan and Donagh Wiseman involved with divisional and county teams at U14/U15 level recently.

The Cork U20 set-up is stacked already with very capable coaches in the sense of technical skills and player development so O’Neill (and Micheal O’Cróinín, another link with 1999 drafted in) will find roles of expertise, perhaps working with individual free-takers or inside-forwards and getting inside the heads of young gifted attackers in Cork football.

Colm O'Neill scoring against Kerry in 2009. Picture: Dáire Brennan/SPORTSFILE
Colm O'Neill scoring against Kerry in 2009. Picture: Dáire Brennan/SPORTSFILE

And there is something worthwhile in it to create a culture as well.

One schools’ coach in Cork spoke recently of heading down to play Corca Dhuibhne and being struck by the significance of Eamonn Fitzmaurice and Tommy Griffin on the sideline for the Kerry school, huge influences on how the top young players in the county are educated in how to be a Kerry footballer.

Remember how Jack O’Connor pulled Declan O’Sullivan into his management team at U21.

That’s a serious brainstrust of culture from winning Kerry dressingrooms to pass onto another generation, a good blend of experience from the reasonably modern game and willingness to put in the hours with young players and simple game intelligence.

Cork will try and make something similar happen, to create some kind of link between the good parts of the past with schools and underage squads up to senior level.

The argument of Ole Solskjaer ‘getting’ United in ways that Jose Mourinho didn’t can come across as trite but it’s hard to ignore that there’s something in this idea of having an identity and creating a background core Cork way here (let’s not use Corkness here but you get the general drift).

Of using the knowledge that’s out there of what it has meant to be a Cork footballer that wins Munster titles and plays All-Ireland semi-finals and finals and the standards that apply and in trying to bring that into Cork teams through the ages.

Cork haven’t had a way this past while so the effort to find one goes on.

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