Dublin coaching policy paying rich dividends

BY the time the carnival kicked off in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday, the most significant hurling game of the weekend was already done and dusted.

For the first time in five years - and only the second in 15 - Kilkenny had lost a Leinster minor hurling match. Not to Wexford, not even to Offaly, but to Dublin.

Momentous as it was, the signs were there that it was coming. Three years ago, Dublin ran Kilkenny to within two points in Leinster. Current manager Tom Fitzgerald was involved back then too.

What is even better is the confidence in the county that Saturday’s win won’t prove to be an oasis in the desert in years to come.

“You would have to acknowledge the tremendous improvement in the engineering of squad systems and development squads,” said Fitzpatrick who doubles up as secretary of the county’s Cumaan na mBunscoil.

“Nine of that team from three years ago are starters on this year’s U21s who play Kilkenny in the provincial final, so we’re seeing the results.”

A native of Fenor, Co Clare, Fitzpatrick also stressed that the amount of co-operation and support from the clubs and the county board was critical in letting the team realise its potential.

Equally vital was the input of Kilkenny men Willie Coogan and John Dermody. Though not selectors, the pair have been assisting Fitzpatrick, Jimmy Dwyer and Declan Power for the past three years.

“Those lads have a great ability in reading games and they know what it takes to beat a Kilkenny team too. They used to hurl for St Pats in Drumcondra when they first came up and they’ve done some great work with our lads since.”

The most important ingredient is the players themselves though.

“The quality of lads we have is vital. They’re capable hurlers but they’re intelligent too. Most of them were taking honours Irish and maths in the Leaving Cert.

“I remember Pat O’Neill saying a few years ago that he had to stop showing videos of teams to his players because they couldn’t take it in. Our lads are no dumbbells.”

Their reward now is a Leinster final appointment this Sunday against Wexford. The omens are good. The last time Dublin beat Kilkenny in a minor championship was 1983 when they went on to beat Wexford in the final.

“If we could win on Sunday it would be a huge step forward for the ‘no hope’ counties. Laois have a development system like ours now and if they see Dublin win a Leinster minor they’ll feel they can do the same.”

It shouldn’t be allowed to take anything away from Saturday’s result, but this wasn’t a highly regarded Kilkenny minor team.

When the class of 2000 lost their Leinster semi-final to Offaly the county board was prompted into radical action, completely revamping their entire structure. Forty-five ex-county men were asked to come on board and coach underage. All bar a handful answered the call.

This latest setback isn’t going to cause the same ripples, according to Kilkenny county PRO Ned Buggy.

“We can’t win everything every year, even if we would like to. There’s a good few young hurlers coming up through the younger age teams. That defeat won’t change anything. We’ll keep trying to bring lads through.”

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