BECOMING the Cork senior football manager is something Shane Ronayne has always wanted.
From his time as a selector with the Cork senior ladies under the late Éamonn Ryan, various third-level coaching jobs, to managing the Tipperary senior ladies and Waterford senior men’s sides, this is the inter-county role that Ronayne hoped to fulfill.
Multiple county, Munster, and All-Ireland club successes with Mourneabbey over the past decade reinforced the view that Ronayne would one day land the biggest job in Cork LGFA circles.
Having taken over from Ephie Fitzgerald, the new Cork senior manager is ready for the challenges that lie ahead and he is eager to make his mark.
“It was a bit surreal, the first couple of weeks after becoming the new Cork manager alright,” Ronayne told The Echo.
“There have been so many messages and just so much goodwill from people all round the country and especially within the county. Look, it is fantastic, but there is a lot of hard work ahead. That’s what I signed up for over the next few years.
“I’ll admit that I was a bit taken aback at the reaction when I got the Waterford job, but the reaction to this has been massive altogether. That’s a sign of where the profile of ladies football has gone. Becoming Cork LGFA manager is as big as any GAA announcement now.
“I think that is a very good thing for me, personally, for Cork and the LGFA in general. This is where we are at now and it is only going to get bigger as time goes on. Increased media coverage brings added pressure, scrutiny, and things like that. I think that is good for the game and will only help improve standards in the long run.”
Ronayne has inherited a richly talented squad blessed with emerging talents like Kinsale’s Sadhbh O’Leary, Macroom’s Erika O’Shea, and Bride Rovers’ Katie Quirke.
It is a nice problem to have, but once Ronayne has run the rule over as many players as possible, deciding on a panel of 30 to 35 will be as difficult a task as picking a starting 15 for next year’s inter-county championship.
It is going to be hugely difficult when it comes to settling on a Cork senior panel, but that’s because there is so much talent out there.
“There have been so many good minor teams over the last six or seven years which has helped as well. One of the things I told the county board at my interview was my wish to bridge the gap between minor and senior at inter-county level.
“I’ll be looking to introduce a Cork development squad where I can get players in, keep them involved and maybe organise some kind of championship. There are other interested counties who have similar developmental squad set-ups, so, look, it is a possibility.
“It is very easy, in a county the size of Cork, for players to slip through the net. I live in Mitchelstown and it is something like 100 miles down to Castletownbere. Other counties cannot comprehend the size of Cork and the amount of clubs and players we have.
“My aim is to have as many players at my disposal as possible. Not having a girls U20 grade like with the boys means there is a gap there and it needs to be bridged.
“Cork needs to have as many players as possible coming through. One thing I have already noticed is the fact the skill levels are huge. We have some unbelievably skilful players.
“The thing is, the physicality, that needs to improve for all the younger players coming through. It is very rare to have minor players coming straight into a senior inter-county setup.
“Eimear Scally (Éire Óg) did it in 2014 and Erika O’Shea (Macroom) did likewise over the last two years, but they are the last two minors that I can recall starting for the Cork seniors. This is certainly something we are going to have to work on with Cork.”
Any new managerial role brings a fresh set of challenges. Ronayne is going into the Cork job with his eyes wide open and, refreshingly, apart from Covid, is optimistic about overcoming any issues in the months ahead.
“Apart from dealing with whatever Covid situations come up, I don’t see a whole pile of (major) challenges this coming year to be honest with you
“I’m very enthusiastic about what we are trying to put in place with Cork for the 2022 season.
We are trying to do a number of different things. For example, we have a basketball programme put together for the panel over the Christmas period.
“We are also hoping to get back to collective gym work. A lack of collective gym work has been a huge problem in recent times and that is because of all the Covid restrictions. I had a conversation with someone involved in the Cork senior hurling set-up not so long ago and they found this to be a huge issue for them as well.
“So, Covid is going to provide us with our biggest challenges; that’s a given. Restricting any collective gym work or indoor sessions might be a problem alright.”
The first couple of months in Ronayne’s new role have been hectic and that’s putting it mildly.
As well as putting together a new Cork senior management team, the Mourneabbey manager has, in tandem, guided his club to another Cork LGFA senior title before overcoming Aherlow to claim the 2021 provincial senior championship.
A lot of Ronayne’s time has been taken up with delegating responsibilities for making sure basic logistics, training, venues for training sessions, and all the other important elements that go into making a senior inter-county panel function are carried out.
So far so good, and that means Ronayne has also had an opportunity to run the rule over potential new Cork senior squad members following a series of winter trials.
“I suppose, from the Cork senior squad’s point of view, trying to make sure we had the best players available to us was something my management team and I had to work hard on.
“That’s because there are so many things going on towards the end of this year and possibly the New Year as well.
“The challenge that we have set ourselves is that we want to be successful with Cork this year. That’s going to be our biggest aim. Can we meet the expectations we have of ourselves?
“As regards being in good shape heading into the pre-season, I am delighted that I have gotten the support of all the Cork senior players. Not one player has said that they are not playing in 2022 which, for me, is hugely encouraging.
“The county board has been 100% behind us since the day I took over and I am thankful for that.
“There is a lot of goodwill out there. Logistically, there are always a few challenges around this time of year when you are trying to set everything up because of Covid. Otherwise, I cannot complain.
“I go back to what I said earlier though, we are setting the bar very high for ourselves this coming year with Cork.
I know that if Cork don’t win an All-Ireland it could possibly be looked upon as a failure. That’s the reality that we are looking at.
“So, our challenge is that we want to be successful, but look at all the other teams that are out there. Dublin will be back; Meath will want to repeat what they achieved last year. Then you have the likes of Galway, Mayo, and Donegal who to achieved last year.
“Bottom line, the challenge for Cork is to live up to the expectations we will set ourselves for the coming year.”
Cork’s All-Ireland senior title hopes were extinguished following five minutes of madness in the semi-final against Meath this past year. A mere three minutes remained with Cork 2-8 to 0-7 ahead and seemingly set for another TG4 All-Ireland senior final appearance.
Yet, somehow, a Meath team that looked dead and buried managed to rouse themselves. Stacey Grimes scored a point and then converted a penalty to leave three in it with time almost up.
Inexplicably, Cork made a mess of their kick-out and Meath capitalised. Emma Duggan scored a terrific goal to force extra-time.
From there, Eamonn Murray’s side were the better team during two additional 10-minute periods as Cork wasted numerous scoring opportunities. Meath ran out two-point winners before going on to shock Dublin in the decider.
The aftermath of that crushing defeat has seen Ephie Fitzgerald and Ronayne exchange job roles.
The former Cork All-Ireland LGFA winning manager has replaced Ronayne as Waterford boss with the Mourneabbey stalwart heading in the opposite direction.
One of the first jobs Cork’s new ladies football manager has undertaken is to bring in a host of new faces into his senior management backroom team.
“I took my time putting my new backroom team together. There is a wide variety of people from different parts of the county and very few who I have worked with before.
“A lot of the coaching staff will be very new to the girls. I am probably the only one who they would have worked with before except for maybe some of the West Cork girls who would know our new coach Dinny Enright.
“Everyone I approached was very interested in getting involved which I think is important. If you are convincing people to try and do things, then oftentimes, it doesn’t work out.
“That’s not the case with any of the new Cork senior management and coaching team. I am very happy with the enthusiasm that has been shown so far.
“For continuity, I have kept most of the medical staff who were involved last year. I think that’s very important.”
First up for Ronayne and his management team will be the National League.
The current proposal is to have initial groups containing three or four counties. That may not give the Cork manager a lot of scope when it comes to experimentation compared to previous years when there was a minimum of seven league games.
“At the moment, my thought process is that there is no massive benefit to us winning the league. So, I’m leaning more towards giving people a chance in the league and seeing if they can progress, can they play a full 60 minutes? Maintaining our Division 1 status is hugely important, I know that, even though it sounds a bit defeatist.
“If we only have three league games and they organise it regionally, we will have Meath, Dublin, and Waterford in with us. That would be one competitive group.
“If I can compete with the players I have and give them a lot of chances, that’s going to be the priority for the league, so winning it is certainly not going to be high on my agenda.
The priority is to find players that can help us later in the summer. There isn’t a lot of time for experimentation, but I feel we must do a bit of it.”
Ronayne has come a long way in his managerial and coaching career. His record with Mourneabbey speaks for itself, but the step up to the unforgiving world of Cork’s ladies football inter-county management represents his biggest challenge to date.
Ephie Fitzgerald leaves huge boots to fill following the former manager’s Trojan work both on and off the pitch. Few individuals are as passionate and determined as Ronayne.
A fresh backroom team coupled with a squad of players desperate to atone for last year’s All-Ireland semi-final capitulation gives the new manager a chance of making a positive impact. 2022 should be a fascinating year for Cork LGFA with Ronayne at the helm.