A few years ago, a potential problem arose as Glen Rovers prepared for a hurling final in County Cork.
One of their players had started a new job and was settling into the new routine. The possible problem? His work supervisor managed Sars, Glen’s opponents, and was in charge of Glen’s player hours.
In the uncharted territory of the GAA etiquette, it could be considered underhanded if a player’s preparation for a county final was marred by skillful manipulation of his work schedule; on the other hand, it could also be seen as exploiting a small advantage.
In any case, the problem never arose.
Pat Ryan, Cork’s new manager, was the supervisor in question and, in the Glen player’s words, he was more than fair with a colleague trying to beat his own club in the biggest game of the year.
Ryan’s appointment earlier this week was quick but not rushed. He was the obvious candidate, but the obvious doesn’t always translate into appointments to leadership positions within the GAA: it was a neat job on the part of county officials to have someone in place. in time for the County Hurling Championships in Cork.
In comments to the Irish Examiner earlier this week, Ryan stressed that he and his management team were open to a player raising their hand to be included with Cork on a club fight basis: “. . . you also can’t beat the excitement that a new player brings, and by new player I mean someone who may not have been around before. And we’ll be looking for those guys too, of course.
‘I would be a big believer in ‘if you can’t do it for your club on the big day then how are you going to do it for Cork in a Munster final or an All Ireland final in Thurles or Croke Park? ”
Ryan’s respect for the club game is understandable. He cut his teeth with Sarsfields, winning senior county titles in 2012 and 2014, and was deeply involved in all aspects of the club’s business. When he was officially announced as Cork U20 manager, the Sarsfields website published a congratulatory message referring to Ryan as “chairman and driving force behind the modernization of Sarsfields All Weather Complex”.
His performance with the Cork U20s is the key point on his CV, but even then he underscored the value of rank for Cork clubs when he was appointed.
“Any player that comes into our squad, we have to make them better pitchers for themselves and for their clubs,” he told Therese O’Callaghan at the time.
“We will take advantage of this. They need to return to their club a better player, better athlete, better conditioned, better attitude and deliver for their club. This is a problem that we will try to make them understand.
With Cork, Ryan got the most out of a talented group, winning back-to-back All-Ireland titles in 2020 and 2021. Several players from this team have played for the county senior team before, such as Daire O’Leary, Shane Barrett and Daire Connery, while two others – Alan Connolly and Ciaran Joyce – are further along in their development and are already established senior starters for Cork.
Ryan’s teams have played aggressively, attacking hurling and even taking into account the obvious differences between U20s and senior inter-county hurling, Cork supporters will be delighted to see this U20 model applied to the senior team.
Ryan has an added advantage having been a manager and coach under Kieran Kingston and will therefore also be familiar with the older cohort of players.
It was noted in his comments earlier in the week that age is not a consideration when evaluating players: the usual presumption when a new broom arrives that older players are the ones being swept, but Ryan struck a very different note.
“My job is to ensure that the senior Cork hurling team perform to the best of their abilities – immediately. And I need the best players available to do that.
“In that sense, I’m not planning for 2025. God knows what will happen this season, or in 2024, my immediate target will be 2023 . . . In that sense, I won’t be looking at the age of the guys, nor the number times they’ve played for Cork: I’m going to look at what these players can do for Cork hurling right now.
The challenges for Ryan unfortunately don’t stop on the playing field. The outgoing management group were relatively circumspect about losing the home advantage for Munster SHC’s game against Clare due to the Ed Sheeran gig, but there’s a reason teams prefer a home venue for close games, and Cork ended up losing that Clare clash by two points in Thurles.
(Side note: In the rush to slash Cork for not having a suitable venue on hand for this Clare clash, surprisingly little was done about Munster’s championship imbalance giving Clare one less away game, but whatever.)
The financial challenges that meant a concert replaced a game remain, challenges not faced by other counties. During Limerick Hurling’s press call last week, for example, John Kiely was asked if his team had found any hotel rooms for the All-Ireland final; news had broken that Kilkenny had decided not to stay the night due to lack of hotel rooms.
Kiely played down the issue, referring to the (Limerick) board and support group around the team handling these issues, but it was an indication of how unrelated headaches of issues in the field may appear for an intercounty manager. However, Limerick runs its business smoothly and Kiely is able to focus on the team without outside distractions, a pattern that is the envy of many counties.
Because Ryan has featured on outgoing manager Kieran Kingston’s backroom teams, he is likely to ask club man Tracton about potential pitfalls and try to anticipate problems before they arise.
Accessing Páirc Uí Chaoimh in preparation for a big game was a challenge for the outgoing management group, one that Ryan will want to avoid. Before that happens, many County Championship games will be played in Cork. Expect to see a viewer particularly interested in a few of them.