John Allen: Cork hurling’s product line in severe need of major overhaul

Concentration of power at county board level has alienated many who want to contribute

It's Friday and Cork hurling's latest issue is still in the media. Cork GAA crises have certainly filled a lot of column centimetres since this millennium dawned. We were a breath of off-season rancid air for a number of months in three different years and it seems we're ready to do a bit of public bloodletting again.

The performance of our hurlers in Thurles last Sunday left a lot to be desired and has become the latest catalyst.

The words ‘crisis’ and ‘crossroads’ were used frequently since. And so there’s a call for change again. Wednesday morning’s local press saw fit to make the contribution of Kevin O’Donovan at the previous night’s county board meeting their sportspages’ main story.

The headline read ‘Kevin O’Donovan, coaching officer of the Cork County Board, has called for the county to appoint directors of hurling and football’.


It then outlined much of Kevin’s “well-received” contribution. He is a board officer I’ve got to know quite well over the past year. To say I’m impressed with and by him would be an understatement.

Here’s a guy who was on a salary as a games development officer in the county who gave up that role and ran for the voluntary role of county coaching officer I presume because he felt he might have some chance of have effecting change in the way games, coaching and player development was being run in the county.

He is doing a fine job. He’s an open minded, personable, articulate, hard- working volunteer whose sole interest is in Cork GAA being run as efficiently as possible. I don’t think there are any hidden agendas.

Wide divide

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t others on the board who are hard-working and dedicated. There are but there is, and has been for a long time, too much personality politics involved in Cork GAA. It has for a long time created a wide divide and has isolated many good, opinionated people who want to make a contribution but aren’t welcomed by the powerholders.

Change seems to be only at the behest of the few and being heard has proven to be a difficult task for many who have put their heads above the metaphorical parapet.

“There is far too much discussion about personalities, ex-players’ personalities and current board members’ personalities. We need the talk to be about polices, to make this a board of ideas.” said O’Donovan.

It might seem that I’ve gone a little overboard in my eulogising of O’Donovan and he probably won’t appreciate me doing it but I’ve seen at first hand his absolute interest in running Cork GAA in the inclusive welcoming way I think it should be run. (I’ve probably now done him a major disservice by associating myself with him ). But change needs to happen and interested people like O’Donovan need to be welcomed and supported.

This all doesn’t mean that O’Donovan or indeed yours truly have a monopoly on wisdom but there are many many Kevin O’Donovan’s in the county who would love to be listened to and heard.

Cork’s display in Thurles was poor to say the least but it shouldn’t have amazed us either. The team only won one league game this year and have surprised and disappointed us in equal measure over the past decade. The managements of all those teams gave selflessly of their time. They were prepared to do their bit for Cork GAA. The players in that same period are to be equally appreciated and acclaimed. They put their lives on hold to even be able to compete at senior intercounty level.

But Cork hurling didn’t arrive at this point overnight. Blame can be apportioned and indeed has been. But building blocks for the future need to put in place.

The players’ strikes that polarised many in the county achieved much for the players of the period but it seems power has been drawn back into the mothership again. The changes that happened at the time were necessary. But any interested observer would draw the conclusion that Cork hurling has slipped quite a bit, and, given that we have the biggest county and the most clubs in the country there shouldn’t be any reason why Cork can’t be competitive every year.

Yes change is happening at underage. It is happening mainly because structures were put in place by apolitical volunteers who had a vision and a drive and willingness to organise an efficient body to steer youth affairs.

Are directors of hurling and football the answer? I don’t know. Putting the proper people in place and the method thereof would be the first obstacle. Openness and transparency haven’t been the hallmarks of the board over many years.

The present political stranglehold might make the job undoable. It is an avenue that should be pursued though.

The availability or lack of of sufficient money to properly run teams ( ‘properly’ is open to interpretation of course ) is another cause for concern given the vast amount that is being invested in the development of Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Open discussion

Surely a multi-pitch central training facility should be the absolute priority and a minimum requirement. This is the 21st century. Respect for people should be a given. Open discussion should be a given. Consensus should be the way forward.

This is amateur sport we’re discussing. These are amateur players. There is a wide groundswell of respect for the hurlers within the county. There is much interest in seeing them do well.

The product line is faulty though. It needs overhauling. This has been acknowledged before and yet here we are again.

Anyway the cat is out of the bag again but it can’t have too many lives left.