Valerie Mulcahy: Why grassroots growth must be managed properly

After an exciting county final, Mourneabbey are once again Cork champions. They secured their fourth consecutive title earlier this month with a victory over St Val’s in front of a full stadium at Cork IT. They now go on to represent Cork in the Munster championship and bid to secure an All-Ireland title which has so far eluded them,
Valerie Mulcahy: Why grassroots growth must be managed properly

There is a prevailing trend in Cork ladies football that has seen only a handful of clubs consistently dominate the senior championship.

Throughout much of my playing years, Donoughmore were the pacesetters, winning nine county titles and enjoying All-Ireland success. Prior to that Glanworth were all conquering. With the demise of these trailblazing teams, Mourneabbey made their way up the grades and have consistently performed and excelled in club championship over the past number of years.

Mourneabbey’s main challengers, St Val’s, are still chasing a second county title since their breakthrough win against Inch Rovers in 2013. They have featured in every final since but have yet to lay their hands on the John Hurley Cup.

The landscape of clubs has changed considerably if you compare the team of 2005 that won Cork’s first All-Ireland to the 2017 line up.

In 2005, 10 clubs were represented on the county team. Twelve of the starting team played at the senior level with their clubs.

In 2017, 15 clubs were represented on the county squad — 11 of those clubs were not represented in the 2005 All-Ireland final panel.

Beara are the only team who had a club player on the county team in 2005 and 2017. Five of the clubs that were represented in 2005 no longer exist or no longer field a team at adult level. This highlights the huge work done to start up clubs throughout Cork, most notably in the city which was traditionally a camogie stronghold.

This change in demographics and the increase of smaller clubs raises an important debate about the standard of football in the county

One can argue that the greater the number of players the greater the likelihood that more talented footballers will be unearthed.

Conversely, with more clubs playing at the lower grades, the less likely their players will be exposed to high-quality games and opposition.

My own club Rockbán was formed when two local primary schools doing well at Sciath na Scoil level were amalgamated. We made our way up through the ranks and even won two consecutive All-Irelands at JFC and IFC levels in 2001 and 2002.

The year we represented Cork at intermediate level we were also in the senior competition in Cork.

It was probably the only year we were able to really compete against the powerhouse at the time that was Donoughmore. In the following years the margins in our games grew wider instead of narrower. It is extremely difficult to maintain a high level of standard and interest in female sport at a high level. Generally, women’s football careers appear to be shorter than our male counterparts.

It isn’t the case for every player, particularly those at senior intercounty level. However, as with a lot of female sport there is a high drop out rate in late teens and early 20s while parenthood also tends to remove more female players from the game than males.

This year, West Cork left their mark on the club senior championship and the regional teams presence afforded many junior players the opportunity to play at senior club standard which they otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience. Regional teams are comprised of players from 11 clubs.

Perhaps including more divisional teams is one way to work toward providing players with the exposure to a high-standard of play which would, in turn, reduce the jump in standard that exists between club and county.

One certain ingredient to ensuring a high standard in the game is ensuring a high standard of coaching is received by the players. The women’s game is drawing more high profile and highly skilled coaches which is aiding the development of players and the game.

It is crucial that we support and look after the clubs that are already in existence before we encourage new clubs to set up. New clubs should be

formed where they are needed with consideration given to the proximity of an already

established club.

It is important to continued success at grassroots level that there is a strong flow of players from local schools joining their local club and added to that, clubs who experience success at senior should continue to focus on cultivating a strong and competitive underage program to ensure that the standard and the culture of sport remain and grow.

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