Ben O'Connor's confirmed as Cork U20 hurling manager with Antony Nash and Ronan Curran on board too

Success at club level earned the All-Ireland-winning captain a chance
Ben O'Connor's confirmed as Cork U20 hurling manager with Antony Nash and Ronan Curran on board too

Midleton coach Ben O'Connor and goalkeper Brion Saunderson celebrate after beating Blackrock in last year's Co-op SuperStores Cork Premier SHC semi-final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

BACK in July, after Pat Ryan was appointed as new Cork hurling manager, county board secretary/CEO Kevin O’Donovan spoke to The Echo about the coaching pathway that had been created. 

Ryan and his selectors Donal O’Mahony, Fergal Condon, Brendan Coleman and Wayne Sherlock had guided Cork to two All-Ireland U20 titles while the Sarsfields man had previously been involved with Rebel Óg development squads. 

In addition, a format had been put in place whereby management teams taking development squads at underage level would progress with them through the age grades, up to and including minor level. Noel Furlong in 2021, Paudie Murray this year and Kieran Murphy next year are all examples of such a journey.

However, O’Donovan also made the point that it was not a case of solely looking within the ranks when senior or U20 vacancies arose as to ignore prospective candidates on such a basis would be counter-productive.

“Absolutely, the system is strong,” he says, “but in a way that shouldn’t limit their choices or our choices.

“It’s not a restrictive structure in that you must do A, B and C, but we would hope that C would follow A and B.

“It’ll allow us to get really good people in at under-age level – we know who’s in charge of the Cork U14s, U15s, U16s, all with the expectation that they’ll move with the teams.

“At the same time, we’re looking at what lads are doing at club level as well, Pat Ryan’s club record is as impressive as his county record, albeit there is something different about managing at inter-county level – dealing with players, dealing with clubs, dealing with organisation.

“It’s just different, so we just feel that, the more opportunities we give guys on the way up, the more chance we’ll have good managers at the end.” 

To that end, the appointment of Ben O’Connor as Cork U20 hurling manager at Tuesday's county board meeting in Páirc Uí Chaoimh can be considered a positive move in terms of bringing in another top operator who has shown his wares at club level and is deserving of a shot with an inter-county team.

With Donal O’Mahony having succeeded Ryan in the role for 2021 on a two-year term, his move to the senior set-up along with selectors Coleman and Condon created the opportunity.

Aside from O’Connor, others interviewed were Furlong, who was in charge as Cork won the 2021 All-Ireland minor hurling title and served as senior coach and selector this year; Murray, who was the Rebels’ minor boss in 2022 and led the county to four All-Ireland senior camogie victories; Diarmuid O’Sullivan, who had two stints as senior selector under Kieran Kingston; and Dónal Óg Cusack, who is currently involved with his home club Cloyne and was Cork minor manager in 2020 as well as previously holding a coaching role with the Clare senior side.

Anthony Nash after the 2018 Munster final. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Anthony Nash after the 2018 Munster final. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Former Cork stars Ronan Curran and Anthony Nash, Midleton selector Terence McCarthy and Ger O’Regan, coach to the minor side in 2021, form O’Connor’s backroom team.

Newtownshandrum native O’Connor captained Cork to win the All-Ireland SHC in 2004 and also won All-Irelands in 1999 and 2005 while with Newtown he claimed county SHC medals in 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2009, with the club winning the 2004 All-Ireland.

It’s often the case that top players are unable to successfully transition to the coaching and management side but that is a jump that he seems to have made with great distinction.

With O’Connor having helped guide Charleville to the Premier IHC in 2018, they went on to win the Munster title and reach the All-Ireland final. The following year, they were unlucky to miss out a senior quarter-final spot that would have guaranteed a place in the premier senior grade.

Then, after a year out, O’Connor spent two seasons as Midleton coach, with the Magpies winning the county championship last year. For the current season, he was involved with Kerry side St Brendan’s, Ardfert.

Back in 2019, it had been expected that he would become Cork minor hurling coach with Jimmy Barry-Murphy as manager but that ultimately did not pan out. Three years on, it looks as if he will be coming into the Cork system and it should be a move that is beneficial to all parties.

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