Cork GAA staying on message as sport adapts to Covid challenge

Communication is key for the GAA during strange times says PRO Joe Blake
Cork GAA staying on message as sport adapts to Covid challenge

A general view of the Cork and Tipperary hurling qualifier last winter at LIT Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

CORK GAA PRO Joe Blake says that 2020 was the most challenging year of his administrative career, which has encompassed club, division, and county, because of the pandemic.

“2020 was a year that will never be forgotten. I was at the GAA Congress and it was mentioned that Covid-19 could have an impact on the GAA, but no one could imagine what lay ahead,” Joe says of the emergence of Covid-19.

“There was a lot of uncertainty from early March until the GAA announced a suspension of activities a few days before the Louth league game. We had to adapt pretty quickly and did the best we could.”

The county board member said that his role as a PRO took on a new and vital purpose.

“My first year as Cork GAA PRO was a learning experience, so, for 2020, I had really planned to push on, but that all changed,” Joe says.

 Joe Blake, PRO and Kevin O'Donovan, now CEO, at convention in 2018. Picture: Jim Coughlan
Joe Blake, PRO and Kevin O'Donovan, now CEO, at convention in 2018. Picture: Jim Coughlan

“Every template went out the window. I quickly realised how important it was to communicate factual information to the clubs and to the media.

“I was particularly conscious of any inaccurate information that would be circulating, especially when Covid-19 issues were involved.

“I worked closely with members of the executive and members of the GAA communications team in Croke Park to make sure any information in relation to Covid-19 was factual.

“A new departure for the various Cork teams were the online press briefings that we successfully held with management and players alike. That concept proved very successful.”

The club championships, which were played in the summer last season, were a success, with all the various stakeholders enjoying the new format.

Blake was equally pleased with the running of the club championships.

“The new format was a great success,” Joe says. “The CCC tweaked the format to ensure only two teams came out of the groups, which ensured there were no dead rubbers and every score counted.

Players and managers really enjoyed the format. They enjoyed the regular games and having defined championship weekends. 

"Hopefully, this format will give certainty to players and teams going forward, in terms of when games will be played.

“Playing the games at both a local and national level gave a great boost to the whole country. The last few months of 2020 were noticeably shorter, due to the inter-county games, which gave people something to look forward to.

“The GAA, as a whole, really stepped up to the mark, especially during the first lockdown, when many clubs and inter-county players participated in charity fundraisers for very worthy organisations.

“One of the highlights of 2020 was the fundraising initiatives, which were undertaken by the various clubs.

“They raised much-needed funds for charities. It was also great to see both the Cork football and hurling teams, along with their management teams, also getting involved with their own fundraisers.

“Cork clubs came to the fore in helping their communities. Sometimes, it’s the simple things that can mean the most in difficult situations."

Marc Sheehan recently began his new term as chairperson of the county board.

“I’m looking forward to working with Marc. He is very experienced and I am sure he will try to put his own slant on the role. Like Tracey Kennedy, Marc is a school principal and I am sure this will prove useful in managing situations that will arise during his term.”

HIGHLIGHTS

One of the highlights of last year, from a Cork GAA perspective, was how the Páirc Uí Chaoimh pitch held up throughout the year.

“Without a doubt, the pitch in Páirc Uí Chaoimh is the best pitch in Ireland. There were some games that were played in absolute downpours in November and the pitch performed brilliantly.

Killian O'Hanlon in possession on the immaculate Páirc Uí Chaoimh surface. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Killian O'Hanlon in possession on the immaculate Páirc Uí Chaoimh surface. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

“Great credit must go to Stephen Forrest and John Murphy, for the brilliant work they did in the reconstruction and maintaining of the new pitch.”

Despite the uncertainty of 2020, the Cork County Board brought in a number of sponsorship deals that are vital for the continued growth of GAA in Cork.

“One of the main steps undertaken last year was the establishment of One Cork.

“It will allow for a joined-up approach when it comes to seeking sponsorship. We are lucky to have some of the best business brains in Cork involved in One Cork. In 2020, we saw new county championship sponsors and new media partners.

“We also have a new team sponsor and sponsors for the leagues. Hopefully, this is just the start of a very strong commercial era for Cork.”

The Beara man has now entered his third and final year as the county board PRO.

“Every week brings a new challenge. I have learned so much in the last two years. I am glad to make a positive contribution to Cork GAA. I am lucky to have some great people to help me. I couldn’t do it without them.”

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