Kerry minor manager James Costello says the development squad system in the county is not creating a culture of elitism.
The development squad model has come under the spotlight during John Horan’s presidency, with a workgroup currently reviewing the development pathway at inter-county level. The group, which recently finalised a draft document for consideration by the Games Development Committee, is chaired by multi-All-Ireland-winning Kilkenny hurling coach Michael Dempsey and also includes former Cork football manager Brian Cutherbert whose PhD, which he finished last year, examines the development of young GAA players between the ages of 14 and 17.
Writing in these pages a fortnight ago, former Kerry footballer Mike Quirke took umbrage with the portrayal of development squads as being inherently elitist.
“They are commonly misrepresented as being about creating muscle-bound robots, who drink protein shakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and are forced to practice their hand-passing and tackling drills for hours on end. “It’s all nonsense,” argued Quirke.
Costello, who spent six years working with the Kerry development squads before succeeding Peter Keane as Kingdom minor manager, believes administrators and coaches have the right approach in Kerry in terms of the importance placed on development squads and what purpose they serve.
Costello’s Kerry minors begin the county’s quest for a sixth successive All-Ireland crown at Páirc Uí Rinn tomorrow evening, where they meet Cork (7pm, ET if required).
“In Kerry, the development squad is at the bottom of the pile. So the schools and clubs come first and we get the players when they are not tied up with either school or club,” Costello explained. “Maybe, in other counties, the development squads are at the top of the chain, but in Kerry, clubs and schools get priority. That’s sent down quite clearly from [county chairman] Tim Murphy, Donal Daly, and Terence Houlihan.
“When young lads come in, they work on skill development and getting the fundamental basics right. You strip down all the perceptions around supplements and get them into good healthy habits. Very little physical work goes on in our development squads. The squads are looking to try to identify players that have more long-term potential, rather than being the best in their position.” When asked if clubs and schools take priority so as to ensure no culture of elitism takes hold among their most talented youngsters, Costello replied, “100%”.
He added: “The development squads work to the clubs and schools. There is never a point of conflict. That system is working. From my point of view, the players from Scoil Phobail Sliabh Luachra in Rathmore only came back in with us in mid-April. You weigh up the fact that you are not seeing a lot of them with the fact that they are getting great experience by playing in an All-Ireland schools final in Croke Park.”
When the minor age grade was changed last 2018 season, Costello would have preferred if it had gone to U19 as opposed to dropping down to U17.
“I think, physically, a 17-year old is a lot closer to a 16-year old than he is to an 18-year old. U17 at inter-county level has to be aligned at club level. In Kerry, we still have minor club at U18. It just makes no sense. The theory behind dropping to U17 was to separate juvenile and adult football.
“Managing the player workload is probably the single biggest issue to ensure they are getting the right amount of football, but not too much. With all the various teams a U17 is involved with, it is conceivable they could be out every day of the week. It is about the bigger and long-term picture because players want to play every day so it is how we manage that.”
KERRY (Munster MFC Phase 2 Round 1 v Cork): D Burns (Na Gaeil); L Chester (Austin Stacks), A Dineen (Rathmore), K O’Sullivan (Cromane); E O’Sullivan (Legion), A Curran (Austin Stacks), S O’Brien (Beaufort); J Lenihan (Churchill), R Collins (Gneeveguilla); C Crowley (Templenoe), J O’Connor (Beaufort), G Hassett (Laune Rangers); D Geaney (Dingle), D Lynch (Listowel Emmets), E O’Shea (Fossa).
Subs: A Murphy (St Mary’s), K Goulding (Ballyduff), J Kerins (Dr Crokes), D O’Callaghan (Firies), R O’Grady (Legion), T Ó hAiniféin (Na Gaeil), T Cronin (Kenmare), T Sparling (Crokes), C Ó Beaglaoich (An