Keith Ricken optimistic about Cork's future
Thursday July 18
EirGrid Munster Under 20 Football Final
Cork v Kerry, Pairc Ui Rinn, 7.30pm
By Cian O'Connell
Keith Ricken is optimistic. Even as others worried and wondered about the state of Cork football Ricken continues to be a true believer. Possibilities exist, the future can be bright because footballers will always be crafted down by the banks of the Lee.
On the eve of the EirGrid Munster Under 20 decider the Cork manager is excited about the impending mission. Completely aware of Kerry’s class and pedigree, Ricken has been struck by the passion and pride associated with representing Cork.
From gathering a panel, right through the inaugural John Kerins Cup, Ricken could see the pleasure and joy derived by the emerging talent; wearing the red and white jersey mattered deeply.
A GAA Development Officer in CIT, Ricken knows all about potential and promise. “I would have been optimistic anyway, I know things weren't going well when your flagship team has a setback,” Ricken says.
“You know what is out there, the minor teams in the last couple of years were very unlucky losing to Kerry in semi-finals and being beaten narrowly and in replays. When you are on the ground where I'm at you see young lads coming into colleges from various different colleges.
“You are seeing the standard that they are producing, you see the standard of the club games. You aren't as pessimistic as other people because you are surrounded by hope all the time. That is basically it, you have a large reservoir of players in Cork. Sometimes things don't go well, people then get very pessimistic quick, but I wouldn't be like that.”
Ricken casts his mind back to March when a clear sign of the drive and desire in the Cork game was evident and is excited about the appointment of Conor Counihan’s appointment as project co-ordinator for Gaelic Football in the county. “On the night Ireland played Gibraltar over in Gibraltar, I happened to be down in west Cork watching a semi or quarter final of an Under 21 A Championship match looking at players,” Ricken recalls.
“Down at that venue in Kilmacabea there was nearly 1000 people watching that match. A local game with a big huge crowd coming from everywhere to watch the match. There is a huge appetite for sport, for GAA, for Gaelic Football in Cork.
“I just think it is a matter of tapping into it and being a bit more positive in our approach. That is what we are trying to do. I've experienced nothing, but positivity from clubs and from players. Everybody has been excellent, there is nothing I've seen that dampens my enthusiasm for the future of Cork.
"That is the truth, I'd be very optimistic irrespective of how games go. There is a big number of people playing our games, there is a lot of work going in on the ground.
“Yes it has to be fine tuned and tweaked and maybe co-ordinated a bit better. That is happening now with Conor's role, it will tap into it. There is a lot of very, very good people, who do a lot of very, very good work. I'd be positive that it comes in cycles and it will come again.”
Being involved in a provincial decider is important for the development of this crop of Cork youngsters too according to Ricken. “It is always nice to be looking forward to any matches, but at this level you are working with lads who are a pleasant bunch to be working with,” Ricken admits.
“I work in the third level sector so I'm used to this age group, I've always found it enjoyable. It is always a pleasure working with this age group because they are keen to learn and are enthusiastic, they are very honest.”
The new pre-season competitions ahead of the Under 20 Championships served counties well with a series of fixtures most beneficial according to Ricken.
“From that point of view it was good,” Ricken replies. “The only slight difficulty with the John Kerins Cup - and we were delighted to play in a tournament named after a Cork man and such a great Cork man, but there are a number of players you haven't got access to because they are doing their Leaving Cert.
“You hadn't access to all you'd like to have access to, but at the same time we had maybe 26 or 27 young lads playing in the competition from 24 or 25 different clubs. It was a great learning opportunity for them, a great opportunity to represent their county.
“It was great for us too because it gives you a sense of what is ahead and what it is all about. The tournament was excellent that way, we got great games in it. The Championship then takes a life of its own, every Championship does.
“Look at Cork this year now in the Super 8s. You don't read too much into it either, certainly it was an enjoyable tournament. It is something I'd like to see going on, maybe tweaked a bit with timing, just slightly.
“It was a fantastic tournament, very well run, very professional in its approach from the GAA. It gave lads a chance to prepare for a Championship setting. From that point of view it was way better than challenge matches as such.”
Valuable lessons were learned by Cork with Ricken relishing his current inter-county position. “One of the things I've never been interested in is fellas who may come into you,” Ricken remarks about being aware of gifted players in Cork through his day ROLE CIT.
“I've only ever been interested in the fellas that have actually arrived in. I've always been of the mindset that you are there to do a service for the Association and for your college, you are there more importantly to do a service for the students that are in.
“I've never gone out hoping fellas would come in, whatever comes in lands my way, I've always been this way even with this group. Whatever we have seen or done, we just concentrate on our own thing. That is the way I do my business, we are looking forward to the match.”