A NEW era of development has only just begun for Cork Ladies Football.
Following the departure of his predecessor in May, Eamonn O’Connor stepped in to take up the role of development officer for the Cork Ladies Football Board. He may be new, but already the former Glanmire GAA Club chairman has a six-month plan in place to water the greenshoots of Cork ladies football over the summer and autumn months.
Having been involved with the Glanmire ladies club as a coach and mentor to the junior and minor teams, O’Connor – originally from north Cork – was put forward for the county board officership when Norma Dineen of Ballincollig vacated the role two months ago.
O’Connor’s six-month plan was intentionally formulated to take proceedings up to November’s AGM, but upon inspecting his plan, it’s likely the board and its delegates will continue to tap into O’Connor’s energy.
“Cork ladies football is in a good place, but it could be in a better place.
“Small steps are better in following through on the plan, and November will come and it’ll be a new ball game again. If I were to remain, I’d extend the plan and put a bigger time scale on it but you have to take small steps.”
Already the ball is in motion however with O’Connor implementing four U13 and U15 Divisional Academies across the county, the first of which commenced last week in East Cork with 50 girls taking part.
Coaches were specifically targeted in West Cork, Mid Cork, East Cork and North Cork to co-ordinate the academies, which O’Connor feels will be a huge boost for smaller clubs on a local level.
“The idea of the academies stemmed from the fact that I felt there were good players from smaller clubs being lost. By having the divisional academies, then everyone knows the talent within their own division, and if a player, for one reason or another, didn’t put themselves forward for Cork development trials, at least there’s something there on a divisional level for them to aim for or to develop their skills,” explained O’Connor.
“All this is about players going forward. The girls must recognise the fun and skill elements of the game, and that needs to come before winning. It will build confidence and a time will come when they’ll want to win, naturally. But for me, winning at underage level isn’t a priority. It’s about inclusiveness in my books, and we need to starting prioritising players rather than ‘the player’. Weaker players to me should be given every opportunity to up their skill levels to come up to that of a good player. They might never get to that level, but we have to be patient. It generates more respect too for the coach and it’s better for a panel to feel more inclusive and wanted.
“No matter what there is in what club, every player is entitled to a fair crack at the whip, and she and her parents could firstly go to their divisional blitz, which may only be up the road from their club, rather than getting into a car and leaving Beara at 6am to be up in Cork on a Saturday morning for trials.
“By having the divisional blitzes, you get players in and they begin to enjoy it, and even though it’s about developing their skills at the end of the day, the competitive side will naturally evolve as they get older.”
But, it goes much further than that, with a strong emphasis too on clubs taking the action to align themselves with local schools in order to create a spin-off effect for both the local club, its players and the community.
“I’m very strong on encouraging clubs to work closely with primary schools in their area. This is to ensure that a good coaching plan is delivered into schools, and clubs are seen to be proactive and progressive. You’re organising a situation for the betterment of your club and your area, your players, and thereby attracting the kids from the school to the club.”
Looking at the bigger picture then in terms of creating better working relationships between the Cork Ladies Football Board and Cork Camogie Board, O’Connor doesn’t shy away from the fact that things could be done differently, and with better lines of communication.
“There’s no denying we need to just sit down and look at what’s best for all of us. The Munster Council too has a big part to play in all of this. Communication is key. Assuming things will get you nowhere so we really do need to quell what innuendo that might be out there. Whether people operate with the ladies football board or the camogie board, I’m quite sure we all want what’s best for the players at the end of the day, and to develop a positive relationship between both would be fantastic.
“What would be a good thing would be if the Cork LGFA and the Cork Camogie Board were to organise a sub-committee to meet up and go from there. It’s a starting point. Cork football is successful and Cork camogie is successful and there’s no reason why the executives of both codes couldn’t knock their heads together and work a bit better together for all our sakes.”
Although just in the door, O’Connor’s Divisional Academy and summer camp plans – which are coordinated by Cork senior footballer Orlagh Farmer – are taking off, and his energy is refreshing. It’s scary to think then what could be achieved if his mandate goes beyond just six months.
“As I said the players are my number one priority because they are the Cork football of tomorrow. As far as I’m concerned, positive thinking produces positive results, more energy, more initiative, and it can only be achieved by us all going in the same direction. Negativity creates obstacles and you shouldn’t let obstacles build up in your imagination or otherwise, because if you do, you’re doomed from the start.”