How Rebel Óg Coaching revamped Cork GAA underage structures

A clean sweep of Munster hurling and football minor and U20 titles reflects a new approach to Development Squads and Schools GAA
How Rebel Óg Coaching revamped Cork GAA underage structures

Cork's Ben Nyhan offloads under pressure from Waterford's Charlie Treen. The minor hurlers face Galway this weekend. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

RIGHT now the buzz around Cork can be seen as GAA fans anticipate what could simply be an unbelievable week for the county.

Three All-Ireland finals in one week in hurling, something that hasn’t happened since 1977. Add in Munster success at U20 and minor level, with the latter having an All-Ireland semi-final to look forward to.

All three encounters the hurlers face are far from easy, as 1977 showed, when just one of the three titles made its way back to Leeside — the senior one, after their win over Wexford in year two of their three in a row.

On the same day, the minors drew with Kilkenny, seeing it go to a replay a week or two later.

That was played as part of a doubleheader with the U21 final, and sadly, on the day, it was the Cats who travelled home with the two trophies.

Looking at the minor team of 1977, only two went on to real prominence with the senior side after — Seanie O’Gorman and John Hartnett.

On the U21 side were a number of players who were part of the Cork minor double-winning team of 1974.

Now it’s the turn of the 2021 crop of players to see what the next week or so has in store for them and, hopefully, we will be celebrating a Rebel treble come next Sunday.

To win one of the three titles is a major achievement, to win two magnificent, but to win all three is beyond our dreams.

A lot of the success of the current set-up has to go down to work that has been going on at underage level for some years, with the likes of Cork GAA games manager, Kevin O’Callaghan, and the GDAs playing a big role in this.

According to Kevin: “Rebel Óg coaching recognised international research was clearly telling us that having as many players as possible for as long as possible would lead to a better elite player base.

In Cork, we have found this to be the way forward and our development squads now act as a method to develop club players as much as developing high-performing inter-county players.

“People sometimes ask why there are not more players on inter-county underage teams from premier clubs. The development squads are providing players from lower-grade clubs the opportunity to play against better players and that helps them develop to the standard required to play inter-county.”

Our recent success is down to hard work by many people. He compliments the work our GDAs do, often working unsociable hours to give boys opportunities to play representative football and hurling, our primary and post-primary teachers who promote our games and get so little recognition for same, our county board officers, our thousands of volunteers who coach in clubs, and parents who help guide their sons towards playing GAA.

“Cork senior and underage success validates the work, these people’s efforts and time, and is a small but fulfilling reward for the work they do.

“Not resting on the current success, Cork GAA high-performance manager, Aidan O Connell, has added hugely to the conditioning of our players and will continue to add value in this space, but also in player education, coach education, and around high-performance culture in the coming years at underage and adult level.”


According to Kevin, Cork would have been slower getting organised for development squads than other counties in the 2005-2012 period and other counties started to pass us out.

The introduction of Rebel Óg, with a more club-centered fixture programme and more formalised development squad structures, coincided to help Cork GAA provide a better pathway for underage players to develop.

Our post-primary schools' results were poor at this time and our teachers really put their shoulders to the wheel in the last five to six years to create teams that are competitive, and the results improved for the schools at senior level, but also at county level.

Rebel Óg Coaching has been a major driving force in the development of club coaching standards. Since 2015, 370 foundation courses have been run for club coaches and 50 Award 1 courses, training up over 8,000 coaches around Cork. This plays a big part in driving up the standard of player skill levels.

Cork's Rory O'Shaughnessy celebrates with Niall Kelly and Hugh O'Connor after winning the Electric Ireland Munster MFC final. Their and the U20 footballers' win shouldn't be forgotten in the hurling buzz.
Cork's Rory O'Shaughnessy celebrates with Niall Kelly and Hugh O'Connor after winning the Electric Ireland Munster MFC final. Their and the U20 footballers' win shouldn't be forgotten in the hurling buzz.

From 2017 onwards, Rebel Óg coaching recognised the need for a larger base of players to be part of the development squad system, given the size, in terms of geography and population, of the county.

Since this strategy was put in place, we moved from having two teams at U14 to now having eight teams in each code, four teams at U15, and two teams at U16 in each code.”

There are other factors as well, but the hard work of lots of people is starting to bring success and, hopefully, it will continue into the future.

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