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A glittering CV and bouncing back from rejection - Ronayne's road to the Cork job

A new chapter begins on Leeside.

IT’S NO SECRET that Shane Ronayne has wanted the top job in Cork ladies football for quite some time.

In January 2016, following the late, great Eamonn Ryan’s departure from the helm, Ronayne threw his hat in the ring to take charge.

eamonn-ryan-with-shane-ronayne Shane Ronayne with Eamon Ryan after the 2014 All-Ireland final. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

The Mitchelstown man had worked under the legendary manager for the previous two years, building up an impressive CV simultaneously.

One of the most experienced and renowned coaches in ladies football today, Ronayne’s journey began with Dublin club Foxrock-Cabinteely in 2005. Teaching in the capital, he came on board when they didn’t have enough players to field an adult team. Fast forward 13 years, and he steered his Mourneabbey side past them in an All-Ireland senior club final to finally reach the Holy Grail after so much hurt and heartbreak.

Ronayne took over Mourneabbey in 2014, and has since masterminded a true success story. He delivered six county and provincial championship titles in-a-row, and back-to-back All-Ireland crowns in 2018 and 2019, having fallen just short in the years previous.

Before Mourneabbey, he held other notable roles within the county and in Tipperary, where he’s a PE and Maths teacher at Coláiste Dun Iascaigh in Cahir. In 2008, he was in charge of the Tipp intermediate ladies before later returning for a second bite of the cherry — another success story, but more on that later. He has managed Premier underage sides, the Cahir senior men, and has overseen numerous All-Ireland schools titles.

In 2012, he guided UCC to O’Connor Cup glory, while he spent a stint as Cork U16 boss too. Ronayne felt that all of this experience and success combined with his in-depth knowledge of the Cork senior set-up and ladies football in general in the county marked him out as a strong candidate to succeed Ryan.

But Ephie Fitzgerald landed the job, and Ronayne was rejected.

“There’s no point in saying I wasn’t disappointed because I was,” as he said in an interview with RTÉ Sport today. “But I put the head down and went away and learned and improved and I think I’m in a much better position to take over now.”

shane-ronayne-celebrates-with-his-management-team Ronayne with his Mourneabbey backroom team in 2018. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

While Fitzgerald made it 11 All-Ireland titles in 12 years for Cork in 2016, Ronayne plotted his next move. Back to the Tipperary ladies, he went, where he conducted a meteoric four-year rise; the team winning four national titles in as many years under his tutelage.

Playing Division Three league and intermediate championship football when he took over, they were a Division One and senior championship outfit as he stepped away in December 2020, having delivered All-Ireland intermediate crowns in 2017 and 2019.

January opened a new chapter, a move into men’s inter-county management as he took charge of Waterford. While it wasn’t exactly a straightforward year on the pitch — the Déise recorded just one competitive win, against Wexford in Division Four of the National Football League — he thoroughly enjoyed his time there.

In recent days and weeks, speculation mounted in Cork as uncertainty reigned over Fitzgerald’s future. Cork LGFA announced that it was seeking expressions of interest for the position, and it was reported locally that Fitzgerald, Ronayne and successful underage boss John Cleary were the three names in the running.

Friday night’s announcement that Ronayne was stepping down from the Waterford helm, ending a two-year term short, all but confirmed him as the next Rebel leader. “The Cork ladies’ job was really the only one I would have left Waterford for,” he told RTÉ’s Damien Lawlor today, after all was set in stone at a county board meeting last night.

He takes over on a three-year term, as Fitzgerald’s reign of six comes to an end.

There was a feeling that 2021 would be Fitzgerald’s last hurrah, but his exit was still a pretty abrupt one after the advertisement of the job; his latest term concluded.

The Nemo Rangers man’s tenure was a colourful one; from that All-Ireland in his first season in charge, to three Division 1 league crowns (2016, 2017 and 2019) and Munster honours (2016, 2018 and 2019). From the riveting rivalry with Dublin, to the dramatic 2021 championship exit at the hands of eventual champions Meath in the semi-final.

Non-committal on his future following that defeat, it was a stark contrast to 2019 when he ‘stepped down’ after the semi-final defeat to Dublin.

“I’ve four years done and I think it is time for a new voice,” Fitzgerald said in the post-match press conference, before a dramatic U-turn followed a few short weeks later.

I said I would give it one more year. There is a young squad there and I suppose I have a lot going on. I have a family at home that I probably haven’t given as much time to this past few years as I should have been doing.

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“So, there are a lot of factors really. Work and all. But the result today was nothing to do with my decision to step down. That was made a while back.”

He navigated the Covid-19 pandemic through his return and while his tenure will be remembered as a largely successful one, the general consensus of late is he brought an extremely talented group — and one in transition at a stage — as far as he could.

The real currency in Cork is All-Ireland crowns, and the pressure will be on Ronayne and whoever he assembles in his backroom team to deliver over the coming years.

There’s no doubt about it, the players are there and there’s serious potential with no shortage of success at underage level, too. And just look at what Meath did in 2021; the landscape is wide open once again.

“New blood. Big expectations,” as a comment on The42 yesterday read.

That, too, is no secret.

It comes with the territory, and Ronayne will relish the challenge.

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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