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'There is massive potential in brand Cork' - Rebels get back to the future with launch of fundraising group

Cairde Chorcaí brought together former players at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last night.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

HAVE A DRINK in the Glen Rovers clubhouse on Cork’s northside and you could be warned by someone on a nearby stool to double check the change you get from the barman.

‘You might get an All-Ireland medal back by mistake.’

Last night, looking around the impressive new Páirc Uí Chaoimh Premium Level which was filled with men and women who’ve pulled on the so-called blood-and-bandages through the generations, you’d have suspected there was a lot of Celtic Crosses sloshing around the till.

The likes of Rena Buckley, Conor Counihan, Larry Tompkins and Kevin Hennessy joined an estimated 150 of their colleagues for the launch of Cairde Chorcaí, a new fundraising group that will work ‘independently but alongside’ the county board.

The goal is to help Cork GAA get back to winning All-Irelands.

Through a thin pane of glass, below on the pitch hurling coach John Meyler put his players — Cork’s GAA present — through their paces on the Park’s sod ahead of tomorrow’s Munster SHC game with Clare.

In the stand, the county’s sporting past was looking after its future.

“The idea had its origins in that there are people involved in the Cork senior football team who felt that other counties had such supporter clubs,” says Teddy Owens, a former player himself and Jimmy Barry Murphy’s strength and conditioning coach in the All-Ireland-winning year of 1999.

“I think 26 of the 32 counties had one and Cork didn’t have one. At the same time, there were people in the States that people made some contact with and they felt that there was a lot of other counties coming out and fundraising and they were asking themselves the question: ‘how come this isn’t happening?’

“The goal is to try to ensure that Cork hurling and football is back at what we consider is its rightful place,” continues Owens, who’s been tasked with leading the nascent initiative.

“We don’t see why Cork GAA shouldn’t be challenging for honours every year. And the reality is we haven’t been challenging in recent times. Cork people expect that we would be contenders and we want to try and ensure that we will be contenders.”

Tomás Mulcahy was drafted in to give some hurling balance, he jokes, to the group. Though he kicked some important goals in his time too.

“It’s all come together very well and there’s a great mix, there’s a great balance between former players, business people in the city who are highly qualified and also the set-up is well done, it’s well documented, we’re an independent body,” says the 1990 All-Ireland winning hurling skipper.

“We are working in partnership with Cork GAA. This isn’t a revolution. This is an evolution.

“We feel there is massive potential in brand Cork and you look around the country and you look at other counties and you look at Dublin, to compare we’re the next in line. And they’re doing an awful lot of things right above there. But we feel down here that we’re kind of an untapped source.”

Tony Nation, a member of Billy Morgan’s back-to-back All-Ireland winners in 1989 and ’90, was part of a delegation of past and current players who went on a fact-finding mission to Chicago and then San Francisco, in what was the genesis of Cairde Chorcaí.

The group from Leeside met Cork supporters as well as putting on coaching clinics and there’s an emphasis, however the supporters club progresses, to give back to communities, schools and clubs rather than just putting the hand out.

“It was amazing to see how passionate these guys were about Cork football and Cork hurling,” says Nation. “It was great. A lot of them are successful people, they could tell us results back home that we didn’t even know about.

“And you know you can do the same trip to New York, the same trip to Boston and see the the exact same thing.

“We came back and said ‘woah, this needs to get bigger’.”

Kieran Kingston Source: James Crombie/INPHO

One of the issues senior coaches on Leeside face each year is the battle for pitch time and the lack of a proper base.

Kieran Kingston, who led the Rebel hurlers to an All-Ireland semi-final last season before bowing out, knows better than most that a centre of excellence should be top of the group’s to-do list.

“The Cork hurlers are training here tonight,” says the Tracton man, of the new stadium on Leeside. “It’s the first time they’re in it and they’re training since October.

“In fairness to clubs, they can’t be giving up their pitch three or four times a week to an inter-county team. So we need, in my view, a centre of excellence.

“I do believe when you look at the centres of excellence that have been built around the country and I’ve seen a few of them, they’re state-of-the-art and they’re really, really what we need. But now that’s a long-term goal.”

RTE's Tomas Mulcahy, John Mullane and Darren Frehill Tomás Mulahy keeps an eye on the action for RTÉ. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

In the meantime, it’s Clare tomorrow in a revamped Munster championship in which the Rebels will need a lot of go-forward ball and be good at ruck time, it seems.

“It’s like a Six Nations championship now between the counties,” says Mulcahy of the new-look set-up. “One match and you’re out again.

“It’s a the first Cork team to run out in the championships in the new stadium so there should be massive Cork interest, there should be be a big Cork following.

“Remember this team went to an All-Ireland semi-final last year and wasn’t too far away and God only knows what would happen in an All-Ireland final and expectations are high in Cork because that’s a young team.

“There’s a lot of young players coming through and some of the performances last year from the likes of Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon were exeptional. The big task now is to repeat that in year two and the older guys like Patrick Horgan and Seamus Harnedy and Conor Lehane — they’ve now become the leaders. Can they take on that mantle and that responsibility? Because you’re probably going to need it.”

A two-time All-Ireland winner in the mid-noughties, Tom Kenny says of the new-look summer for hurling fans: “Originally I would have been saying you’d like the Munster championship to stay the way that it was. Going up to Thurles, coming down to Cork, the whole idea that you have one chance to keep it going in the championship.

“But the closer it comes the more interested people will be; it’s the first time Cork are in the new stadium, Clare coming down brings big pressure on to try to win your first game and at least keep keep the wolf from the door.

“Cork are still developing in some ways but they’re Munster champions, they’re out to defend their crown, why not start on Sunday?”

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