THERE’S an odd and potentially misleading period around the end of every season where we look for reasons why some teams end up winners and some not.
It’s undeniably an obvious thing to do, to search for patterns and details behind each successful team and basically hope to locate something to copy, even if learnings tend to become oversimplified.
France won the World Cup because of players developed on the pitches of the banlieues; Dublin won the All-Ireland because of advantages of funding and access to superior coaching; that kind of generalising.
The analysis tends to be dominated by two categories: the team who won because their players were better and the team who won because their coach/manager/tactics were better. And then there’s the reality, the team who managed to find the most effective mix of both, who took the right group of players with the required talents and created the most effective environment for them to reach the necessary levels of excellence.
It’s almost impossible to separate this Cork camogie group’s winning momentum these past few years from the story of their management.
That wonderful Cork ladies football team found a perfect facilitator for them at that time of their emergence in Eamonn Ryan back in the mid-noughties.
This Cork camogie group have happened across the perfect management team at their stage of development here also, the level of detail and technical and tactical coaching work from Paudie Murray and his backroom group that’s allowed them to dominate opponents and become the pre-eminent team of this era.
Check out any interview with a Cork player this past while where almost every aspect of their performance finds a reference back to some work done behind the scenes by the coaching team.
Ask about their long-distance shooting and you’ll find that they specifically targeted long-distance shooting as an area to work on and improve as more and more opposition crowded the scoring zone in front of goals.
Ask about their ability to pick out the right pass to keep possession rather than belting it down the field and you’ll find that sort of decision making is drilled into them from constant reinforcement in training games.
In the build-up to the match on radio one of the pundits mentioned that Kilkenny might have an advantage in a tight game as they’d more experience of those all year while Cork had been blitzing everybody; it was interesting then to hear Cork players and management talk afterwards how they were always confident if they were in touching distance in the last five minutes due to all the work done on mental toughness and replicating those conditions in training.
Take Orla Cotter, who managed to score the matchwinning free in an All-Ireland final and make it all feel fairly routine, nailing a pretty tricky shot in injury-time (it was tougher than say Dean Rock’s winning kick in last year’s All-Ireland final with Mayo which received an awful lot of post-match reverence on the character and process involved) and in truth never looked like not nailing it.
The nature and nurture element was taken care of by years of pucking around with her brothers in the back garden or the GAA field in Ballynoe.
Cotter took over on frees when Jenny O’Leary left a few years back and has added that extra bonus to her game with the same kind of care and pursuit of excellence you’d expect from a player that’s always had that kind of technical ability.
The striking style is very much hers and the routine is more or less the same once she’s locked into it – forward knee slightly bent, couple of glances at the goal, left hand over right and struck off the right side, though she did give herself a little forward momentum for distance by standing a yard back for one or two of the further out ones.
Watch back any of those five frees now and there really is no feeling in the world other than that she’s completely comfortable in the task. The pureness of the strike for the last winning free was especially sweet, nothing less than total conviction in the process and her ability to deliver in that situation. There’s work to back that up of course.
One of the coaches, Kevin Murray, spoke before the final about techniques for the free-takers, about not wanting to interfere too much with Cotter’s natural rhythm but on wanting to push her at the same time to develop a proper routine and stick with it. Murray mentioned how his work with tennis players helped him in his work with Cotter’s free-taking.
Creating the pressures of a last-minute All-Ireland winning free at Croke Park is difficult but there was a reference to frees taken in a training towards the end of a particularly tough eight-v-eight game so that the tiredness and heart rate were at similar levels to what they were last Sunday in the 61st minute.
By the way, almost forgotten in the hoopla about the circumstances of that late free was Cotter’s absolutely technically perfect pick and roll in the toughest of conditions at that stage of the game to get possession and get a move started when the game was there for the taking by either team – even if they hadn’t won the free Cork had the ball moving towards the Kilkenny goal.
Again, the kind of skill execution that becomes normal only through constant exposure to those kind of conditions in training.
Think Aoife Murray’s save near the end which could come from years spent out in the grass playing with her brothers and sisters (those Murray family games must have been damn competitive) or hours at the ball wall up in Kilmacud with Niall Corcoran or all the drills in training or probably through some mix from them all.
You could run through almost every play Cork made last weekend and find the same balance of individual history and team training which made it possible. Cork are winners because they made it happen.