YOU wouldn’t normally get the chance to link Andy Murray, Davy Fitzgerald and John Caulfield and yet they’ve all done something of note in recent times.
Andy Murray made Amelie Mauresmo his coach (and took a bit of heat for it). Davy Fitzgerald brought Mags D’Arcy into his Wexford management set-up.
John Caulfield has Lisa Fallon in his staff as a top quality coach/analyst and it’s been interesting to see the coverage recently of Fallon’s story, the narrative of being the only woman working in men’s professional soccer here in Ireland.
It’s easy to recognise the leap of women playing sport right now, where participation in team games has never been so high and the possibility of making an elite sporting playing career for the top players is there now in ways it just wasn’t before.
Luke Connolly might be known as much as Megan Connolly’s sibling as the other way around here in Cork. Girls growing up now can see their heroes on the field competing and playing at the highest levels.
As coaches? Not so much.
There’s something a little off still about the lack of female coaches on the sideline of the major sports here and in ladies sports in particular and numbers released this week back up the serious shortfall.
The current Irish women’s soccer and rugby and hockey team managers are male and there aren’t any female managers in the Women’s League of Ireland.
There’s only a handful of female managers in the ladies football and camogie environment and when a national newspaper did a 20 most influential women in GAA list a couple of years ago, it was made up mainly of administration jobs, a few players and zero managers/coaches.
It’s not unrepresentative of the situation everywhere else course.
There was a bit of a kerfuffle when Phil Neville got the job as manager of the England ladies football team but an awful lot of the coaches in the upcoming world cup will be male (funny thing is, the World Cup winners have generally tended to have women coaches) – Corinne Diacre, the manager of the French team made some stories in the last few years as manager of Clermont foot in Ligue 2, the first men’s soccer club in France to appoint a female manager.
It’s a numbers problem as much as anything.
When England went looking for a new coach for the ladies team in 2017, they found only seven females with UEFA pro licences and forty-one A licences (compared to 383 and 1672 males in each). Even though Emma Hayes has won premier league titles with Chelsea ladies she is still one of only a handful of women involved in the UK as well.
There just hasn’t been a tradition of coaches coming through in the ladies games yet.
Cork will be a testing ground here and an obvious place to start in many ways given the high population of ladies GAA players in the county who’ve stopped playing in the last few years with an awful lot of experience and winning mentality to pass on.
If you were to go all Andy Murray on it, you could shut down questions about Nemo being the last Cork club to win a senior football All-Ireland with references to Mourneabbey or hijack lists of Cork’s great leaders or most talented forwards of the last 15 to 20 years with mentions of Buckley and Murphy and Mulcahy over Canty or O’Connor.
If Cork football has been in crisis it’s only been the men’s section; if there’s a sense that one All-Ireland in the noughties was an underachievement then that forgets the success of the ladies, who left no doubt about their pre-eminence in dominating the game.
One aspect to all this first: Cork ladies have been haunted with some wonderful coaches in that time, men without whose input it certainly wouldn’t have happened in the same way.
In football alone, Eamonn Ryan was the big influence over that ladies team that just needed a push in the right direction.
They picked up the most successful coach in Cork men’s club football (Ephie Fitzgerald) as a replacement, who many thought should have been given the men’s job at some stage.
They’ve had another behind the scenes (John Cleary) leading the minor ladies who even more people thought was a shoo-in for the men’s senior job after winning U21 titles.
And yet, it strikes as extremely unlikely right now that none of that driven and focused group of powerful personalities that won multiple All-Irelands would go on to coach or manage at club or intercounty at a serious level.
In the same way that someone like Ronan O’Gara always jumped out as possessing the right mix of cleverness and ambition to go on to properly coach the big jobs, it’s possible to look at the Cork team that won All-Irelands in any year from 2005 onwards and pick out maybe seven or eight potential managers and coaches and see exactly what they might bring if they had the necessary interest.
Primarily the knowledge of the culture they developed to make Cork football more or less unstoppable for so long. But also specifics. Imagine what Val Mulcahy could pass on about the work needed to become a top-level scoring forward or what Bríd Stack or Rena Buckley could tell about defending.
Geraldine O’Flynn has already started the process with Glanmire and you’d think there will be more to continue that cycle.
We’ve had the discussion about whether top players become good coaches and it may be in fact that some of the lesser known individuals in the background of that Cork ladies football and camogie binge of the last decade go onto greater things on the sideline than the more well-known names.
At the end of last year, there were specific coaching courses laid on to target recently retired ex-players to get them involved with teams at all levels.
There’s been a massive leap in more or less every aspect of women’s sports, where the numbers and the sheer quality and application has shifted the profile and overall awareness of the potential here.
The natural flow of these players who’ve lived that surge ought to drip feed into coaching jobs if attitudes can be opened and there’s a willingness to take chances.
The next step on the road is needed.
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