Conor Counihan’s job as project co-ordinator of Cork football’s five-year plan has opened his eyes asto the importance of adopting a holistic approach towards young players.
The 2010 All-Ireland winning manager believes the way in which underage coaches at all levels interact with young players is a major challenge for the GAA.
Instead of being led by an outdated and counter-productive win-at-all-costs mentality, managers and coaches, according to Counihan, must look out for their players on and off the field.
“Particularly in the social scene that we are today, the GAA is far more important than it ever was,” Counihan told the.
“We can’t offer a young fella the lure of rugby or soccer where there is a professional contract, but we can give you a real quality of life, a rounded education, and by that I mean bigger than GAA, where you are asking: ‘How are things going at school?’, ‘How are things going at home?’ Because there are just so many mental-health issues out there now that it is about looking after people, and I think that it comes back to you in tons. We are fortunate we have plenty of good people involved who are good at that, but plenty of room for improvement.
“I’ve made mistakes [in the past], whether it is playing the U12 guy on the U14 team and dropping the guy that is 14. We have major challenges all over the place in terms of participation within the GAA.
The most recent report said we lose 59% between the ages of 12 and 20. That’s a massive challenge.
“Some of that has been down to silly stuff, like the U12 playing at U14. This winning mentality, this manager thing, a culture that has been to the detriment of the GAA in the sense that every fella wants to be the next Mick O’Dwyer. We really need to attack that as an association.
"I am learning in the job. I wouldn’t have been as strong on this prior to coming into the job, but I do see the damage it has done.
“If we don’t get it right on the ground, [success at] the top won’t happen. I am talking about GAA culture, massive change there in terms of the attitude in how we deal with young fellas going forward.
“We are in a different environment now. We need to meet those challenges in whatever way we can.”