Keith Ricken fully behind John Cleary as his successor in Cork manager role

Illness forced the St Vincent's clubman to step aside from the position
Keith Ricken fully behind John Cleary as his successor in Cork manager role

Cork manager Keith Ricken before the Allianz Football League Division 2 match between Derry and Cork at Derry GAA Centre of Excellence in Owenbeg, Derry. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

KEITH RICKEN decided to step down as Cork football manager around the time of the All-Ireland quarter-final defeat by Dublin.

And he’s fully supportive of John Cleary, who is expected to be ratified at the county board meeting on Tuesday, when the Castlehaven great moves from coach, initially, to interim manager, due to Ricken’s health concerns, and now manager for the next three years.

“I met with John shortly after the game and told my situation, so he went away to think about it,” Ricken told the Echo.

“I was hoping John would take up the mantle because he knows how much I think of him anyway.

“I wouldn’t have brought him in the first instance if I didn’t believe he was able for the role.

“I was delighted that John accepted it and he will put his own stamp on things.

“I don’t think he will go a million miles beyond from where we were this season in terms of his team. 

"I’ve no doubt John will do a very good job.” 

Cork manager John Cleary. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cork manager John Cleary. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Ricken has also changed his work situation at MTU Cork Campus, where he spent over 20 years as GAA Development Officer.

“I’ve taken the post of Student Service Officer which came up a few months ago and I went through a few interviews for that.

“I really love working with students and this job will allow me work for them a lot more.

“I’m really excited about it. It’s a team environment and looking forward to getting my teeth into that.

“It’s different and comes with its own pressures, though.” 

Ricken outlined the background to his decision to leave the manager’s role.

“Inter-county football, whether you’re a player, a selector or part of management, demands one thing and that is everything from you.

“You must be able to do that, but unfortunately for me, my health, which is not life-threatening, does impinge on quality and has done for the last while.

“I’ve battled through it the last number of years with different things and that was fine.

“This year, though, while the mind was willing the body wasn’t.

“I took a break, which I had to because I was quite sick at the time back in February and March and Covid compounded that, too.

“It also co-incided with a very busy time at work and I was trying to juggle the whole lot.

“I was hoping it would be more short-term, but it’s not.

“I have to say people have been very good, extraordinarily good and I appreciate the Mass cards, phone calls and text messages.

“The big thing was I needed time to recover and I was liaising with my two very good doctors-James Ryan in Cork and Seamus Donnelly at Tallaght Hospital in Dublin.

“We reviewed a lot along the way with my family obviously included, too, and we’re making great progress though I still require a lot of recovery time.” 

Ricken kept his distance from Cork during his enforced absence, but not fully.

“I’ve always kept in touch with the football side of things with John and the county board.

“I was in and out, popping down to see a training session, but it was always from afar because when you’re out, you’re out.

“That is important and it was something we were very clear on.

“I was quite happy with the structure we had set in place.

“It was very encouraging to see that run well and also to see a lot of the younger players step up in quicker time than we had envisaged, but needs must.

“They are turning into the men that we thought they’d be and older lads were the men that we knew they were. That was great, too.

“The lads made the All-Ireland quarter-final and when I went into the dressingroom afterwards, I was delighted to see the response.

“They weren’t happy. They were disappointed at losing and just weren’t at Croke Park for the day out.

“It was good to see that, but I expected that, too, along with the management’s disappointment, because it lifts your spirits a bit.

“People really care and losing hurts, which will drive them on next year, I’m sure of that,” Ricken concluded.

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