Dohenys clubman Brian Herlihy speaks to John Bohane about fulfilling his lifelong coaching dream; he was recently appointed manager of the Cork minor footballers for the forthcoming season. The Dunmanway native was rewarded for his commitment, dedication and the coaching prowess he has displayed in recent years with his own club Dohenys and various underage Cork football teams.
Brian is thrilled with his appointment. “I am delighted with my appointment as manager of the Cork minor footballers. It represents a huge honour both for myself, my family and my club, Dohenys. It is a great privilege to have been chosen and I will do my best to bring success at minor level back to Cork.”
Brian, who has previously served with great distinction as a coach with both the Cork U21 footballers and the Rebel Og Academy in recent years, was delighted to put his name forward as a candidate once the highly sought after position became vacant as he revealed. “I have been involved with this particular age group of players since they were representing Cork at U14 level, as part of my work with the Rebel Og Academy, so naturally I was interested in continuing with them when the opportunity arose. They are a great bunch of lads, I have enjoyed working with them in recent years and I look forward to helping them continue their football development.”
Brian is relishing the opportunity to assume the role of managing the Cork minor footballers. “I cannot wait for the job to begin. The entire management team is excited at the potential that exists within this very talented group of players. It will be a challenging role but ultimately very exciting I feel.
“Managing any inter-county team is both challenging and exciting, however it is one that the management team are eagerly looking forward to. Our immediate goals are to get the management team up and going, organise our training schedule and get to see as many players as possible playing for their school teams or club sides.”
Brian has assembled a very strong team of selectors who will assist him in attempting to revive the fortunes of the young Rebels for the season ahead. Donal McCarthy (Valley Rovers), Mick Comyns (St Finbarr’s), Paudie Kissane (Clyda Rovers) and Noel O’Leary (Cill na Martra) have been handpicked by Brian to help coach the talented young Rebel stars of the future.
Brian is delighted with his appointments to his backroom team as he outlined, “I am very happy with my fellow coaches and selectors. We have a very nice blend of experience and recently retired inter-county players, Donal McCarthy, has over ten years experience with coaching the Cork juniors, seniors and U21 teams. Mick Comyns has been a selector with the Cork minors over the last few years, which will help provide continuity. Paudie Kissane and Noel O’Leary have years of playing inter-county football with Cork, they were both superb players who will command great respect. They will bring great enthusiasm and knowledge. Paudie was involved with the Clare senior footballers also. We have assembled a very strong coaching team I believe. We cannot wait to get started.”
Another key appointment to the Rebels minor coaching set-up was the acquisition of decorated former senior goalkeeper Alan Quirke, who will act as a specialist goalkeeping coach to the Cork minor goalkeepers. Brian is enthused to have attracted the Valley Rovers custodian to his backroom team. “All the three former inter-county players are very well known. They will command instant respect. They were great players for Cork in their day and they are now keen to give something back in a coaching capacity.
“I think that Noel, Alan and Paudie will bring a wealth of knowledge and know how to the set-up, the players will obviously know them from their stellar careers. Their experience and winning mentalities will hopefully influence the young players in a very positive fashion. Their presence will be hugely beneficial to the whole group.”
Brian has promised that no stone will be left unturned in his quest for success. Every player from every club in the county eligible to play minor football will be assessed at great length before a panel will be ratified.
The process for identifying players for next season has already begun in earnest with a series of trial games held last month in an attempt to unearth new gems to the minor panel as Brian elaborated, “We held a series of trial games throughout the month of October. Obviously, we are very familiar with the majority of players who have already come through the Rebel Og Academy. We also have close contact with both Derek Kavanagh and Phillip Moore, who are currently involved in training the Rebel Og U16 squads. They are doing great work with that particular squad and they will have strong opinions on players who are due to progress up to the minor grade. I have no doubt however that there are other players outside of the squad system who have been missed or only developed in footballing terms more recently. We encourage people to contact us at any time if they think we have overlooked any player and we will assess that particular player without hesitation. It is vital every player is given a chance as we want the very best players representing Cork.”
Brian was always keen to take up coaching once he concluded his playing career with his beloved Dohenys; he immediately served as both a selector and manager with the Dohenys before progressing to inter-county coaching when he served as a Cork U21 selector under the tutelage of Tony Leahy and John Cleary. Brian recalls, “I got involved with the Dohenys at an early stage both as a selector and manager. I was lucky enough to become a Cork U21 selector for ten years serving under both Tony Leahy and John Cleary. I learned an awful lot from my various co-selectors and coaches during this period which proved most beneficial, so hopefully I can put a little bit of this coaching knowledge and expertise to good use with the minors. I have also been involved in Rebel Og for a number of years, something that I greatly enjoyed. I believe the strength and dynamic of the management team as a group is the most important aspect with everyone contributing equally.”
Brian remains very positive that Cork football despite a shortage of underage All-Ireland titles in recent seasons is in a healthy position going forward. He is confident that Cork can once again reign supreme both at underage and adult level, “I am very confident that Cork football is in a good place. Both the Cork seniors and minors were unlucky this year. The U21’s got to a Munster final. UCC were unlucky in the Sigerson Cup, and Rochestown College were beaten after a replay by the eventual All-Ireland champions. There is huge amount of work been done in all Colleges and clubs at all levels throughout the county, and I think all we need is a little bit of luck for Cork to be competing for silverware once again.”
Brian and his coaching colleagues are hoping to implement a positive and winning mentality within their squad, but they are keen to play football with a bit of style as he revealed, “The rules of the game have not changed much in the last 120 years. Sometimes I think that the basic elements tend to get lost when we over complicate our approach. We will be concentrating on the basics, emphasising the importance of ‘team’ players. We will also be encouraging all our players to express themselves and enjoy the game.”
Brian, who hails from a family steeped in Dohenys football, is hopeful there will be a strong West Cork representation on the Cork minor football panel next season, “Our family has been involved in the Dohenys club since 1968, when my late father was posted to Dunmanway. My brother Barry is club chairman at present and huge work has been done by the Sam Maguire club, under their chairman Jerry O’Mahony.
“Three of this year’s senior semi-finalists were from West Cork which is indicative of the overall strength of football in the Carbery region. The healthy rivalry between all the clubs in the division also lends itself to promoting player development in a very positive manner. There is a great spread of players from all over the county on the current U17 squad. I think this is a very healthy sign and in a way, I would prefer a good geographical mix as it would reflect in a healthier game throughout the county.”
Brian is under no illusions however as to the size of the task he has inherited with the Cork minor football team. The Kerry minor footballers have won successive All-Ireland titles, while Munster rivals Tipperary were beaten finalists in this year’s All-Ireland final. Brian acknowledges how difficult it will be to reign supreme in Munster. “Munster is definitely very difficult, Tipperary have improved immeasurably over the last few years. We saw that again this year when they reached the All-Ireland final. Kerry will always produce good minor teams. There is a lot of work being done by all counties at under-age level and there definitely has been a levelling off in standards. You need a bit of luck to be successful in competitions. The draw was definitely not kind to Cork for the last few years, hopefully that will change this year.”
Brian is also hopeful that Cork College football teams will be competitive this season when the Corn Ui Mhuiri Colleges championship resumes; he and his coaching counterparts will be taking a keen interest in the progress of the Cork Colleges this season. “College football is extremely competitive, there is much more to be learned from these games as opposed to trial games. It is important that Cork colleges are competing at the business end of the season as this experience of winning matches will greatly assist the players and the county team going forward.”
Brian is anxious to avoid player burnout with the Cork minor team so he has designed a programme specifically tailored to ensure they are competitive next season. “Inter-county minor football starts in February 2016, the U17s have a number of games to complete at present which we will use to identify players. Most players are training with their clubs and colleges at the moment, which is great for their development. It is important to keep them fresh and not to overdo their training. Their programmes have to be managed accordingly. Hopefully we will have a long year in 2016.”
Brian is conscious that he and his coaching assistants have a duty to provide players who will progress up the ladder with the Rebel county. He is confident that they can achieve the right balance of success whilst ensuring the players maintain their development. “I think overall player development is equally as important as winning trophies. We have a duty to hand over players capable of playing U21 inter-county at the end of the season which in turn feeds in to the senior team.”
Cork has not captured an All-Ireland football championship title since 2000, when current selector Noel O’Leary lined out at right half-back. Is Brian confident of emulating their exploits? “I think lady luck has not been on our side over the last few years. This management team is hugely enthusiastic in preparing the team to the best of our ability and if we get that little bit of luck required, who knows what might happen.”