Cormac Kirwan, Kildare GAA's full time Operation Manager
“One of the reasons I went for this job is because it is my passion and this was an opportunity to marry my professional passion with my sporting passion. I know there will be banana skins down the road; but as George Bernard Shaw famously once said ‘A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing’.
“The GAA is what I am; I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for the exposure as a nine or ten year old to the GAA organisation in Clondalkin; it kept me on the right road and it gave me the values of which I live my life which allowed me to develop in the Defence Forces because it (the GAA) was always in the background.”
The words of Cormac Kirwan, former top ranking army officer; experienced GAA player, administrator, manager, selector, instructor in the Defence Forces School of Physical Education, and much, much more.
Cormac has just completed his first three months as Kildare GAA’s first ever full-time Operations Manager.
So what exactly is the role of the former Round Towers, Clondalkin, clubman who has been resident in Naas since 1997 and has been involved with senior clubs Allenwood, Celbridge, Round Towers (Clondalkin), the Dublin U21s, the Garda team and many more?
The job spec, when advertised, was vast; practically covered every aspect of Kildare GAA.
For now though there are four main areas (amongst many others) that is taking up much of Cormac Kirwan’s day (and night).
They are: coaching and games development; capital development; sponsorship and partnership; along working in tandem with Club Kildare.
Coaching and Games is something very dear to Cormac’s heart; he has been heavily involved in this area over the last number of years and he sees this area as vital to improving standards, something he insists that Kildare is very well served in at the moment but with extra funding of €1.5m coming from Leinster Council and Croke Park to counties Louth, Meath, Wicklow and Kildare, he sees it as a vital means to continue and build on this improvement.
The capital development area, says Cormac, “covers Hawkfield, and our main development at St Conleth’s Park, and where exactly we’re going with Conleth’s over the next few years.
“The sponsorship and partnerships area is about creating a relevance within the business com-munity while the fourth top line area is linking up with Club Kildare, which of course could probably be aligned with the third one on that list, as it is the official fundraising arm of the county board.
“There are other areas of course, areas such as Club Leadership; a new programme in this area is about to be unveiled in Kildare by Croke Park.”
Cormac is very enthusiastic about this programme which has seen many club officials in the county signing up and which he says will be hugely beneficial in the immediate and long term running of clubs within the county.
A member of the Defence Forces for all of 28 years, Cormac ended that career last September; a career he describes as “the best experience of my life, bar none; sure it’s the making of any young lad, for me I went in there in 1988 and all the experience I got, at home and abroad, the courses I got, the opportunities I got were the makings of me; the army is very much like the GAA, it develops you to such an extent that you live by the values of organisations such as the Defence Forces and indeed the GAA.”
Based in the Curragh for 21 years; in 2010 he was posted to Dublin; was overseas in 2012 and 2015; was in McKee Barracks and ended going to Cathal Brugha when he came back from the Congo in 2015.
Cormac admits that it is practically impossible to talk about his time in the army without mentioning the late Dermot Earley.
“A gent” was the instant reply from Cormac.
“If you ever wanted a role model or an exemplar of the values of life, Dermot Earley was the man you could aspire to follow; in all walks of life. Dermot was a leader of men; there was simply no one like him.
“I am presently doing an event management course in Croke Park, as part of my new job with Kildare, and on our very first day we were asked to identify who you would see as leaders and leaders you would have experienced in society during your lifetime.
“There was a cross section of personnel, covering the four provinces on that course” adding “five or six of that group, including myself, unknown to one another, all identified Dermot Earley as a Leader of Choice.”
Cormac’s background in the GAA began when playing street league in Clondalkin at eight or nine years of age and it has been part of his life ever since.
Competing all the way up to senior level Cormac recalls that around 1996 “I got in as the Chief Instructor in the Defence Forces School of Physical Education where there were a lot of lads involved with teams and during that time I got a phone call to see if I would be interested in doing a small window of work with Allenwood where Paul Earley was the manager and we ended up working together for three years in the early 2000s.
“I was involved with the Laois senior hurlers on the fitness side for a while and then I went back with Paul (Earley) again when he was involved with Celbridge. I was there for three or four years; two hugely passionate clubs; one rural, one urban, so that gave me a great feel for the challenges in the county.
“I went on to manage Naas before going back over the border getting involved with the Garda team in Dublin along with Jim Gavin for two years, and with the Dublin U21s in 2009 and then I managed my own club, Round Towers in Clondalkin for a year or two but had to break that link as I went abroad in 2012; came back and got involved with juvenile set-up in Naas.”
Cormac admits that he had been looking at different avenues within the GAA over the years “but when this job (Operations Manager with Kildare GAA) came up, and as I am now part of the 'New Kildare' regime as such, it immediately appealed to me and I went for it and got it and am really excited about it.”
Since taking up the appointment, Cormac made it one of his top priorities to meet the clubs of Kildare and has met about two-thirds so far “and I will be out again this week and next meeting the cluster of clubs in the Carbury area; the following week I will meet clubs in the Caragh area and the following week clubs in the Monasterevin area.
“These are very useful meetings as I can get a feel from the various clubs as to what they see as the major challenges in the future which is very worthwhile.
“The two most important resources that any of us have are our people and our money and no doubt all clubs are finding the big challenge is finance but there are a number of initiatives out there in this regard.
“Last week I met with the review committee on finance, under the chairmanship of Alan Dunney; a very broad cross section of clubs, urban, rural and one of the areas that was discussed at length was the Kildare Draw which is a huge opportunity to generate finance when all the risk lies with the Co. Board; we have to look at how we package that because that should be used to drive finances within clubs.
“Just look at some of the bigger clubs that have used it and have generated big money, clubs such as Moorefield in 2015; Celbridge in 2016; Dick Maher was there from Rheban and he spoke at that meeting at how Rheban has used it and used it very successfully.”
There are loads of positives from this draw but we just have to ensure that clubs see it for what it is, a positive that can drive club initiatives, said Cormac, adding “finances are the big, big challenge.”
The St Conleth’s Park upgrading project is also right up there on the top of the Operation Manager’s agenda.
“I believe that if people out there can see progress in Conleth’s that in turn will generate a huge level of support for the county and from a business perspective you get businesses looking to be part of where we are going as a county.”
So where exactly is that project today?
“Planning permission in; next stage will be the application for the Sports Development Grant so we will be putting in our submission; depending on the outcome of that but the signs are very positive, we have done our homework; we have met with Leinster Council; met with Croke Park; met with the vital people so we are positive but on the other hand if it doesn’t work out we will just have to sit down and review our plans, but at the moment it is all systems go.
“I personally feel that Conleth’s should be something special, Conleth’s is your county ground, it’s the golden acre in the centre of Newbridge so, regardless of what you change, the minute you set foot on that pitch, the legacy; the history of those who went before you, that equates hugely but we have to get the building right; the dressing rooms right, get it fit for purpose and bring it into the 2017 and 2018 era.
“We are on the road, I would be very very optimistic that the first sods would be turned by the end of the summer, the sports capital grants will be announced by the end of July, but we are driving on as if we have the green light because we are optimistic that this will all come together ... really it has to happen.”
And where do you see Kildare (and yourself) say in five years time?
“From the meetings I have and continue to have with clubs as I am getting more familiar with the challenges within the county the first thing would be Conleth’s but that to a certain extent will be outside of my remit as that will be essentially driven by the sports capital programme and all the rest that goes with that but I would see Conleth’s as being hugely important as that would realise the ambition of the county.”
From the playing point of view Cormac admits that he would like to see many changes.
“I would also like to see a review of our games programme, not so much at senior level as changes last year are very positive and will create more competitive competition but it’s at underage where I would like to see the major changes.
“It’s easily said but difficult to do such is the diverse challenges; rural clubs have so much legacy but not the numbers against the new urban clubs that have the numbers but don’t have the legacy but find themselves up against other sports but I would love if we could roll out a games programme incorporating a variety of outside-the-box-thinking that captures the younger players and makes them want to play our games which in turn would lead to greater numbers going into minor and U21, greater numbers playing would in time give greater numbers to the Cian O’Neills and Joe Quaid’s of this world which would ultimately improve the standard and that is huge and very important.
“There is a lot of work being done in Kildare but it is a very difficult challenge because we are unique due to the diverse club structure; remember 66 per cent of our clubs are based in rural areas.”
Does he think smaller rural clubs, in partiuclar, will need to join forces?
“I don’t think so; what you want to do is allow the small rural clubs participate in all of the competitions and that may mean amalgamation of playing teams; regional competitions; maybe having competitions away from the traditional 15-a-side to allow them to compete, whether that be seven-a-side, nine-a-side but I would hate to see a small rural club that has huge tradition amalgamating.
“We are all Gaels; the clubs come from our founding fathers and founding grandfathers and nobody wants to close that door on that history because we wear it on our sleeve; everything to do with it.
“No absolutely not, but we have to come up with a template that will allow those small rural clubs to compete at the highest level they can compete at, and yet at the same time retain the integrity of the club.”