A couple of points about Dublin and the GAA before we all forget about it until springtime.
I appreciate that Dublin has more money than any other county, and that accepting such inequality is difficult for counties such as Roscommon, which don’t have a large population or rich hinterland of industry to draw on. I mention Roscommon because when Kevin McStay stepped down as the county’s football manager during the week the issue of resources came up in his resignation statement.
What interests me is what Dublin spend that money on, however.
At senior level Dublin have dominated the last four years of intercounty football: they have a legitimate claim to be acknowledged as the best team of all time, given the more challenging championship structure and better teams opposing them.
But what are they doing further down the age groups? If they sky-blue monolith is that powerful, surely they are dominating all age groups?
Not so much. If you look at the All-Ireland minor championships, Dublin have one football title in the last 20 years. One.
In hurling at the same age group they have none. Zero.
I rang a mate whose kids are involved with a club in Dublin — not one of the super clubs you hear about, but a sizeable operation nonetheless — and he pointed me immediately to the definition of ‘talent academies’ on the GAA’s website. (For the record, it states that talent academies exist “...to develop and prepare highly skilled young players to play for counties and the broader club and school game, supported by an effective, well trained workforce of coaches and other personnel, delivered within a strong partnership of county boards, clubs and schools”.)
My mate pointed out that in other counties there seemed to be a focus on winning the All-Ireland or provincial title at U15 or U16 level, but that titles didn’t seem to be that important to Dublin — that “developing and preparing highly skilled players to play for the county” appeared more important.
Because the same man is from Cork he pointed out that the likes of Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon, now mainstays of the Cork senior hurling team, were famously on the B development squads at their age group: if those teams were ‘talent academies’ rather than ‘development squads’ then maybe there’d be more of a focus on bringing through the one or two individuals per age group who might play senior for the county.
It’s interesting to this columnist that Dublin appear to have this right — rather than racking up underage titles at minor level, for instance, they’re more interested in pulling through one player from this age group, or two. The investment of time and energy into those other players isn’t wasted, as they raise levels when they go back to their club, which is where the focus remains.
My mate referred me to the Leinster Colleges scene, where two Dublin schools have won the Leinster football title in the last 20 years.
In hurling there are three titles in the last two decades, all won by school amalgamations in the capital.
All of which shows the concentration on the club in Dublin, not the colleges scene. Does it work in a county with (relatively) few clubs relative to its population? At intercounty level you’d have to say it has, and not only in football: Dublin’s senior hurlers have been more successful in the last decade than they’ve been in the preceding 40 years.
In itself the focus on clubs indicates a resource-rich county board, obviously; officials elsewhere are either trying to piggyback on schools or work the synergies, depending on your addiction to management speak. But you have to say that the resources the Dubs have are being used properly.
Why Burt Reynolds quit football for the movies
The passing of Burt Reynolds gave me pause, but then for the likes of me, Smokey And The Bandit, one of his stellar turns, was a non-ironic treat. Burt was big, big news.
Since he died we learned the roles he turned down (The Godfather, Star Wars, Die Hard, Pretty Woman, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest).
What we also learned was that he might never have appeared in any film had his American football career worked out.
Reynolds was an outstanding player with Florida State University when he joined the college in 1954, and his future was bright. Unfortunately, he crashed his car into a truck the following year, and the impact cost him his spleen and two years of football. When he made his comeback in 1957 he couldn’t recapture that spark, and he decided to hang it up.
“I’m leaving,” he told his teammates.
“I’m not the player I was. I’m going to go off to Hollywood to be a movie star.”
That he did.
What’s fair in gender debate?
I stumbled across an opinion piece in The Guardian last week criticising the Australian Football League policy on transgender participation in its sports.
The piece criticised the AFL for, among other things, introducing weight-based criteria for female participation, describing it as a dangerous development given the pressure on women and girls when it comes to weight generally.
The piece was written by Hannah Mouncey, who played handball for Australia as Callum Mouncey before becoming a woman.
Hannah is six foot three and two hundred pounds. She was barred by the AFL from its women’s league draft.
This is where a vague commitment to equality rubs up against a considerable physical reality.
Mouncey is considerably bigger and stronger than her opponents; is their level playing field to be sacrificed on her rights?
Or do we need the proverbial six-year-old child to pipe up and point out what should be the most obvious point in the world about what’s fair and what’s not?
Leibovich’s NFL expose packs a punch
I hereby send you off to buy one of the best books I’ve read in years, no caveats. Mark Leibovich’s Big Game: The NFL In Dangerous Times will have you snorting with laughter and agog with astonishment, often at the same time.
If pressed for a highlight, I suppose a jaw-dropping exchange with the owner of the Dallas Cowboys — and a stupefying amount of drink — takes the prize, but the tattoo on the Commissioner’s backside and the line about Bill Belichick killing puppies are also in the running.
Plenty of love in the book for the late Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, whom I interviewed when he was US Ambassador to Ireland.
As Leibovich skewers the NFL’s PR flunkies in the book, he’ll appreciate that when an embassy official asked if we were done, Rooney said: “No way, this is the first man in Ireland to ask me about Billy Conn.”
That’s not in Leibovich’s book but if you’re interested in Tom Brady, or weird billionaires, or why Donald Trump wasn’t allowed buy an NFL team, or just great writing, then buy this book.
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