Former Cork senior football manager Brian Cuthbert has warned the GAA faces dire consequences if it doesn’t improve the playing experience for its young members.
Cuthbert was speaking yesterday as he presented the talent academy and player development report with committee chairman and ex-Kilkenny coach Mick Dempsey.
The body have proposed recommendations under four headings — creating a new player pathway that moves away from academies and development squads to return the club to the centre of player progress, improved education, better governance, and an altered games programme.
They received feedback from approximately 1,000 people, with 7,000 pieces of data being analysed, and what they found was how the senior inter-county culture of winning almost at all costs had eroded the enjoyment and development of young players.
Among the competition proposals are All-Ireland competitions commencing at U17 level, the introduction of a tiered U17 All-Ireland competition as well as for U19/U20 level, underage grades at club level changing to U13, U15 and U17, U19 being the only All-Ireland competition at school level and the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup being spread out from October to January.
“We’re firm believers that if we don’t start really, really examining where we are and draw a line in the sand then our values and the very culture and DNA of the Irish people and their clubs are going to suffer hugely,” said Cuthbert.
“That’s what this report is trying to drive home. The report is absolutely adamant that there’s a place for everybody. Yes, there are going to be talented boys who need to be looked after, but, most importantly, only 1% ever get to the very top.
“With our vision, initiative, and commitment that we have provided in this report, it’s very, very simple and can be summarised in this sentence ‘as many as possible, for as long as possible, in the best environment possible’."
Cuthbert highlighted the example of correspondence from coaches to parents of young adolescents warning them their sons risked not being picked if they played other sports. “Texts to parents of U13 and U14 boys telling them they have to come training in November for a Féile competition in March or April.
Telling them they have to bring a foam roller, telling them if they are playing other sports maybe they should be out, and telling them that only 25 will be selected, and telling them that if you are not in the 25 you can play in the Bs and Cs, they will start training at a different time.
“This is a real text. This is where we are at. What has seeped into our veins is practices from other domains, Practices from other sports that are professional by nature. This type of behaviour doesn’t fit an amateur ideal. This type of behaviour doesn’t fit the manifesto we proudly presented that we all belong, it’s a million miles away from it.”
Because of the benefit young footballers and hurlers found playing in other counties, the group did not consider proposing doing away with the Féiles but Cuthbert highlighted their main concern with them was the amount of preparation for them — “who is driving the preparation?” he asked. “The coach.”
Dempsey accepts changing what is a culture will take time. “The majority of stakeholders see under-age teams as mini inter-county teams, which is not the case. We feel if that’s the approach being taken it will lead to drop-out and the overemphasis on winning rather than long-term development will not bring through as many players to play with their club or their county.
"They will not achieve the full potential because their focus has been on winning the competitions.
“We’re not living in the utopian world where we believe we can achieve things by the flick of a switch or whatever. We believe by bringing people with us we can change but it won’t be easy because the strength of the GAA is that local rivalry, that local competition and winning that competition so it is going to take time to convince people of the need for change.”
Meanwhile, former Leinster operations manager Shane Flanagan, a member of the committee, has been appointed the GAA’s new director of games development. Flanagan will replace Pat Daly, who takes up a new role as head of research and innovation.