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Cork U20 football boss Keith Ricken draws praise for impassioned interview after win over Kerry

The 2019 All-Ireland-winning manager delivered a six-minute life lesson on TG4 which was lauded and widely shared on social media.

ONE COULD HAVE forgiven Cork U20 football manager Keith Ricken for sucking in a bit of oxygen following his side’s dramatic one-point win over neighbours Kerry in last night’s Munster championship semi-final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Instead, he barely drew a breath at all as he delivered a post-match interview to TG4 which enraptured viewers.

Substitute Ciarán O’Sullivan kicked the winning score in the dying embers of a six-goal thriller, this despite the Rebels being reduced to 14 men — and Kerry’s Paul O’Shea converting the consequent penalty — after Colm O’Donovan was shown a second yellow card on 49 minutes for an adjudged foot block, one of several decisions which infuriated Cork fans in the final quarter.

However, Limerick referee Jonathan Hayes was among those praised for his courage in the aftermath by Rebels manager Ricken, along with Kerry full-forward O’Shea who saw his last-gasp attempt at an equalising point drift wide.

cork-players-celebrate-as-paul-oshea-misses-an-equaliser-in-the-last-seconds-of-the-game Cork players celebrate as Kerry's Paul O'Shea misses a last-gasp attempt at an equalier. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The 2019 All-Ireland U20-winning manager is a GAA development officer at Munster Technological University who has also worked with the Carrigtwohill hurling setup in recent years, and his loquaciousness is no secret in GAA circles on Leeside.

In a six-and-a-half-minute debrief live on TG4, however, Ricken spoke to a broader audience, many of whom lauded and shared his interview on social media afterwards.

Asked firstly about the conversation he had on the pitch with his players following the full-time whistle, Ricken told TG4: “Well, I suppose, what we had the conversation about was: they (the players) set the goals at the start of the year for this competition because part of the development of young men is to try and turn them from boys into men, and that’s a kind of transitional period — it takes a while. So, they have to set the goals and the goals were that, tonight, we’d get through by hook or by crook.

“We’re trying to get our performance right, but ultimately championship is about results; it’s a results-driven game, it’s our job to get results. One of the things we’ve said there is, ‘We’ve got our result, and now we’re onto the next stage.’ And that’s all it is: it’s the next step, the second step on a ladder that has four steps if we’re trying to win an All-Ireland, which is what they set out to do.

Munster championship is the second step on the ladder so there’s nothing won — but we’re delighted: what has been won is that they took off the ground, they’re up in the air now as such, like; they’re flying. Quite often people say, ‘We have to bring them back down to Earth.’ God almighty, it takes a long time to get 15 or 20 fellas off the ground. We don’t want to bring them back down to Earth, now — we want to just keep them flying, we want to keep them motoring.

On the performance of the match officials, and most pertinently referee Hayes’ decision to award Kerry a penalty and show O’Donovan a second yellow, Ricken said: “T’was hard to get a free, there, at the end. T’was tough going, but it was tough for the referee, it was tough for everybody: it was warm and it was very hard, I found, to get instructions out onto the field because with this new rule, you (the manager) are stuck in the box.

I have great and utmost respect for any man who togs out in the middle of the field and blows the whistle. And I would certainly say that he was the nearest man to it (the penalty incident) and his umpire was the nearest man to it. I’d never question a referee’s decision, really, as such, because it’s disrespectful to him and everybody else. There was decisions both ways — you could be arguing the toss. But he’s doing it in real-time and it’s a lonely ol’ spot. It’s been highlighted in the press in recent weeks about different things going on, and you’re out there and there’s nobody protecting him.

“He did a good job out there as far as I’m concerned,” Ricken added. “He blew the whistle, he called it as he saw it. I mightn’t have agreed with it but then I didn’t agree with every decision that we made and I didn’t agree with every decision that they (Kerry) made. So, such is life. I’d have no qualms about that. If you look at it again… ‘It was, it wasn’t’ — he does that to learn himself. We don’t look at that. Our job is: ‘What are the learnings in it for us and how do we prevent that ball from going down there in the first place?’ Because the ball was down there and it shouldn’t have been.”

Asked later in the interview if he felt sympathy for Kerry forward O’Shea, whose late strike would have forced extra time had it crept inside the post, Ricken delivered a stirring monologue about the development of young players and, more in keeping with his own coaching methodology, the development of young men.

“We look at people and we’d be saying, ‘We hate Kerry’ or ‘we hate this crowd.’ You love all the guys who play sport, d’you know?” Ricken mused. “There are a lot of anti-sport things going on in society in Ireland and in world society, and they’re the things we should be hating.

Seeing guys going out and having a go off it at 19 and 20 years of age… You know, Paul O’Shea is in a good county in a good setup, like. I don’t have any fear of him. He’s going to learn, he’s going to come on. Just like every other young fella who took on shots today that didn’t drop [over the bar]. There’s a lot of people who go around the country and they say, ‘I could have been one of them if I put my mind to it.’ But they didn’t. These guys put their mind to it and they stepped up; they put on the jersey and they went out and represented their county.

keith-ricken Ricken issues the orders to his Cork charges. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“And I’ve always great pride in every guy who goes out and represents his club and his county: he goes for it,” Ricken continued.

These guys, they don’t make excuses not to be here — they make excuses to be here. Both teams. And I think hats off to everyone who had a go, there, today. It’s a learning ground. It’s a very safe learning ground. The worst you’ll do out here is lose a match. But you’ll learn stuff that, in time, in your own lives, when the real proverbial hits the fan and you need to step up, you’ll fall back on: ‘I’ve done it before, I can do this now.’

“For Paul and for every other young lad that was there in the country today having a go off it — I think that’s what sport is all about. It’s a safe environment for them to learn about life, to be able to step up into manhood, to step up to responsibilities and ownership and look into the future with a bit of positivity.”

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