Seán O’Halloran has a key message for Leesiders: 'Be patient with developing underage players in the county, the rewards will come in time'.
O’Halloran, a fascinatingly insightful character, is the present PRO for the Clare County Board, writes Peter McNamara..
However, he’s also a man that knows a thing or two about what’s required to generate player-development pathways.
O’Halloran was chairman of Bord na nÓg in the Banner County for near-on a decade and, alongside a team of shrewd individuals, laid the foundations to facilitate the progression of Clare teams at minor and U21 levels over a sustained period.
He believes, and hopes for the good of the Association, that personnel on Leeside can do the same in the coming years.
He is adamant that when counties find themselves bereft of underage talent filtering through to compete at inter-county level focusing on short-term patch-up jobs to cover the cracks are pointless exercises.
O’Halloran takes up the tale from their beginning and explains how Clare are now at a stage where competing and challenging for trophies is commonplace.
“First of all, I think it’s important to say Cork supposedly have one of the better underage structures in place now, or so we’re led to believe,” O'Halloran said. “And far be it for any Clare man to be advising Cork on what to do to improve their situation below there.
“But as you’d like to know what it was we did, or are doing... we began by expanding our net for players.
“We expanded on the great work that was done before us by broadening the intake of players to our inter-county teams at underage level.
“For example, and I’d be quite sure Cork are similar, we had 50 players at U14 for the Tony Forristal before whittling that down to 30.
“We made sure though that those other 20 players did not fall by the wayside because it’s so important to appreciate players develop at different rates.
“So monitoring those 20 was just as important as monitoring the 30 that progressed.
“The difference was though that original 50 began as 100 to 120 players who we exposed to best practice coaching before eventually we brought 24 out of the 50 chosen at that time to move forward to the Tony Forristal.
“So it went 100 to 120 down to 50, 30, 24 but players had been given the best of coaching and we monitored every one of the 50 especially even after 26 of them did not travel to the event with us.
“We thought that was the way to go to develop a large group of players and we emphasised development.
“We didn’t care about winning at that level once we were developing players to compete later on at minor and U21 grades.
“And that’s vital: coach underage players to develop. If they win along the way well and good but that should not be the motivation at U14 and U16.
“By all accounts, Cork are very strong at U16 level now so even though things are not great at minor, U21 and senior there at the moment steps are being made in the right direction.”
Patience is a virtue though and practicing patience on Leeside is imperative O’Halloran believes.
“This indeed will take time, absolutely. People have to be patient. I know that can be easier said than done at times but it’s so important.
“It’s not going to be a case of just throwing a team in at U16 level which has competed well as was the case with Cork and then automatically assume a Munster minor title will follow in two years.
“It’s not that simple. There are many factors at play on these roads.
“Even coaching the coaches takes time. It took us loads of time before we started to see the fruits of our labour.
“People have to understand that,” he stressed.
Another thing people on Leeside need to remember is that even though the likes of Clare, Waterford and Dublin have made/are making really massive strides with their underage development programmes that that doesn’t guarantee success either.
Therefore, as the ills of Leeside GAA are corrected over time Cork still don’t have a divine right to lift silverware.
Sport, as O’Halloran illustrates, just doesn’t work like that.
“That’s true too and is something we talked about during the years as well.
“You might get a great bunch at U14 one year and a very average crew at U14 the next year.
“These pathways increase the possibility of competing and winning, of course, but that’s all.
“There are no guarantees in the GAA, sport or life so nobody can assume trophy cabinets will be full after rolling out the carpet to the Promised Land, so to speak.
“I understand how frustrated the Cork public must be, I really do as we were there too ourselves.
“But allow for the process and the time that will take. It will be worth it in the end when Cork are competing on the biggest stages again.
“Allow for the players to develop,” he said.
O'Halloran has encouraged Cork to strengthen links between the managements at each level to ensure communication is excellent between everybody involved.
“Absolutely,” he mused. “Proper communication from the bottom to the top in terms of managements and their age-grades is essential.
“I would assume it is decent in Cork as it is but there needs to be official links between each group.
“We’re very strong on this. We would have some mentors moving on with each team as players move on in years.
“Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor then would be acutely aware of all that is going on at each grade up to U21 especially.
“Getting the players at U14, U15 and U16 to focus on perfecting the basics is a big deal for us as well.
“There is little need to be worrying kids of those ages with game plans and in-game structures.
“Maintain your long-term goals,” O’Halloran added.