Hurling and camogie

Derry camogie chief Ciaran Cunningham: building pathway bridge high on agenda

Derry camogie manager Ciaran Cunningham during the All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Championship match against Down at Slaughtneil on Saturday October 24 2020. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin.
Séamas McAleenan

DERRY camogie manager Ciaran Cunningham is looking to build a structure for the future of camogie in the county and building a bridge between the minor and senior teams is high on his agenda.

“When I was in as manager back in 2017, there was a strong senior panel there and I was able to work with them as they were.

“However at the start of last season, we had just the bare 15 players when we went to play Down in the first league game at Mayobridge. The senior panel had lost a bit of morale and a good bit of confidence as well.

“We have come a long way since then. But I can see more clearly now that girls coming out of minor need a pathway into the senior squad and team and that is why I approached the minor manager Paddy Downey to come on board this year.

“If a player is two or three years out of minor and hasn’t played for the senior team, it is going to be hard enough to get them to come in to the set up again. What we need is a plan to keep 18 and 19 year olds on track for a senior inter-county career.

“It won’t happen this year, but I would like to see a second county team evolving maybe next year where we can run with a panel of 30 – 40 players and they will all get games, get experience and progress through to be strong senior players.

“Down did it last year and it seems to have helped them a lot. They got a few players from the second team to come straight through into the first team before last season was out and others will appear this year too, I would expect.”

Cunningham and Downey approached 50 or more players around Christmas and got positive replies from around 40 and the St John’s clubman is convinced that they are all county standard.

“I am very pleased with the squad we have – 95% of the girls we wanted are there. We told them that they were good enough to play for Derry and also told them that playing inter-county camogie will both develop them as players and further their camogie career.”

Anthony Begley, who had a stint as Derry GAA's first ever full-time Strength and Conditioning coach and has also been involved with Galway GAA, Dundalk FC and now Magherafelt GAA teams, has come in to do a programme with the girls until they can get back out to the pitch.

Cunningham, who runs a gym in Belfast, felt that he needed to manage the team and delegate more of the jobs.

“Yes, I felt that I was doing too many jobs last year and by delegating I can take a step back and do things a lot better.”

Colette Darragh, who has been part of recent underage management teams, joins as Liaison Officer. Selector Caroline Wilson and physio Ann Boylan remain on board from last season.

“I am still on the look-out for a coach, but if we don’t get one, Paddy and I are more than capable of sharing the job,” says Cunningham who is “mad keen” to get out on the pitches.

“I didn’t think that it would take this long to get up and running, but it is what it is. I think everyone just wants to be out training and playing camogie.

“I had been hoping to have a decent pre-season to get some of our plans in place before the games start or even to trial things in the league. But we just have to wait it out like everyone else and see what we can get done in the time we have.”

A few years ago Cunningham was in charge of UUJ and he is not surprised to see some of his former charges taking a step forward with Down last year.

“Down have a good set up there now. When I was with Derry four years ago, Down were in a transition period, waiting on those girls coming through. When I came in last year, I had the blinkers on and didn’t see that the landscape had changed.

“Derry is now in this transition period. We have rebuilding to do, and it has to be done right. I enjoy challenges like this. It may take three or four years and I might not be there when we see the end product. But it is what Derry camogie needs now.”

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Hurling and camogie