New Blarney manager Ronan Byrne praises predecessor Paul O'Leary

New Blarney manager Ronan Byrne praises predecessor Paul O'Leary

Blarney players celebrate after defeating Castlelyons in the Co-op Superstores Cork PIHC final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last October.

Evolution rather than revolution is the aim for Blarney and new manager Ronan Byrne as they seek to build on last year’s Co-op SuperStores Premier IHC victory by challenging at senior A level.

Paul O’Leary was player-manager for the 2020 victory, achieved with an impressive eight-point win over Castlelyons in the final, but he has opted to focus solely on playing for the coming year.

There is no upheaval, though. Byrne, previously a selector, will transition to the top job while coach Brian Hurley, fellow selector Fintan D Coleman and strength & conditioning coach Stephen Casey remain in situ, with Donal O’Mahony a new addition to the backroom.

It’s the next step for Byrne and Hurley, having assembled a good body of work in recent times at various grades.

“Myself and Brian have been working together for the last number of years,” he says, “U16, minor, junior and U21.

“We’ve had a lot of these since they were playing U16. It’s good to see them developing in the right way and we’ve built up a good relationship through working with them over the years.”

Byrne gives a lot of credit to O’Leary for ensuring that the changeover is close to seamless.

“Paul O’Leary took over in 2019 and he did an exceptional job of putting the right structures in place,” he says.

“He’s a very ambitious guy and he was willing to get involved when he was still a player. The structures he has put in place have made it a lot easier for me to step into the role.

“The same guys have been there for the last two years and then adding Donal in is something that we hope will be the final piece in the jigsaw.

“It’s definitely easier coming in like this rather than having to start from scratch. The hope is that it will be a continuation of what we were doing for the last two years.”
And, while it might be unusual for a manager to have his predecessor as a player, in practice things will be somewhat similar to matchdays last year.

“Paul moved to Glanmire in the last couple of months and he wants to concentrate on his playing career,” Byrne says.

“He’s an absolute clubman, he’s involved in the coaching structure of the club too and he has put in a huge amount of work over the last number of years.

“We worked very well over the last two years when Paul has been on the pitch and we’ve been on the sideline.

“We’ve had a great understanding and once Paul crossed that white line, he was a player and that was it. There was no question of him having any conflict when he was on the field, he knew his job and we all agreed on that very early on when he started.

“There was never any confusion, to be fair. We had conversations every so often about the whole set-up, but they’re good conversations to have.”

The addition of current Cork U20 selector Donal O’Mahony has been a big boost, while Byrne also pays tribute to the impact Casey has had. The S&C coach was involved in a double of sorts last year as he fulfilled a similar role for premier senior champions Blackrock and his expertise is invaluable at the current time, when players are limited to working on their own until restrictions are lifted.

“We’re lucky as a club to have Stephen Casey as our strength and conditioning coach,” he says.

“The guys have a huge amount of trust in him and that’s built up over the last two years. They’ve been doing work in the past few weeks, doing what they can and feeding it back through Stephen.

“It’s all about just getting ready for when we hit the pitch. Injury-prevention is the focus at the moment, getting the mileage into the legs and doing the right things.

“Once we do get back into pre-season after a pretty substantial break – we played the county final on October 3, so it’ll be a seven- or eight-month break – it will be important that the guys have some stuff done.

“They’ve really built up a good trust with Stephen and that’s a huge benefit.”

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