Cork County Board vice-chairman Kevin O’Donovan has welcomed GAA president John Horan’s plan to review underage county development squads, believing they are in danger of becoming elitist.
During his inauguration speech, Horan outlined his intentions to tackle, as he sees it, the unhealthy growth of development squads.
His criticism centred on development squads contributing to an “elitist culture” in the Association and having a “detrimental effect on young players who end up being cast aside from these squads after a few years”.
He also expressed concern that individuals charged with overseeing these teams were motivated by personal agendas. “It’s key to get the right people looking after these squads for the good of young fellas, rather than promoting their own coaching CV to become a future minor manager,” said Horan.
Having served as Cork coaching officer from 2014-17, as well as three years as Cork development squads administrator, Kevin O’Donovan is well placed to analyse Horan’s rampant elitism claim.
“I would welcome any review of development squads, nationally,” he said.
“The danger of elitism is probably the biggest threat facing the GAA.
“It is a very positive move by the president, straight away, to tackle the issue of elitism, which is running through every level of the GAA.”
O’Donovan sees an urgent need to address the tournament culture which exists at underage level.
Winning the Tony Forristal (All-Ireland U14 hurling competition) should not be the barometer by which a young county panel is judged, he said.
“It is very unfair to tell managers to take a developmental view and then when they arrive at a tournament, we start tweeting their results. I have huge sympathy for the managers on sidelines.
“They are being put under pressure, externally, by us and then we complain when, maybe, they overtrain or become too elitist.
“The holistic view has to be taken. John [Horan] recognises that.
“I have, previously, sent in proposals to Munster relating to Tony Forristal. My thinking was that Cork should be sending four [regional] teams. Make it less of an All-Ireland, less elite.
“Make it more inclusive, but still not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
“The Celtic Challenge is the best thing the GAA have done over the last 10 years. Cork, more than any other county, have embraced that. We sent four regional teams into that competition.
“It greatly reduces your chances of winning it, but you are giving more players access to that high level. We’d be for that at all levels.”
Horan complained that development squads were starting too early. O’Donovan has discussed with games development administrators in the county methods to streamline Cork’s underage set-up.
“This is a long-term view, but why bring an U14 hurler playing Premier 1 into a development squad when he is already playing at the top level of club competition? Should the development squad be for a player who is not playing Premier 1, so as to bring him up to that level?
“Also, in schools, should someone who is playing Harty, Dean Ryan, Frewen, or Corn Uí Mhuirí be coming into a development squad on a Friday evening for more training when he is getting plenty of it in an elite school?
“Is there a need for every single elite player to be turning up at every event?”
O’Donovan said: “Sometimes, people complain there are too many young lads involved with development squads. What has served Cork best are the regional nature of them, where it is not elite.
“A guy from Carbery now plays on a regional hurling team with lads from Muskerry and Carrigdhoun. It means he can take on an Imokilly player on an even footing.”
Jerry Wallace, who was involved with Cork’s All-Ireland winning teams in 2004 and 2005, served as director of Limerick’s underage hurling academy from 2012-14.
He has returned to their academy set-up this year and wasn’t impressed by Horan’s negative take.
“Development squads won’t ever run out of control so long as games development officers and GDAs are involved in implementation, along with external coaches who are not directly linked with GAA bodies. That has always been how it worked in Limerick.
“Also, if you have a good steering committee in every county, they will not appoint the people who have that win-at-all-costs mentality.”
Wallace said: “If you look at underage tournaments in the past five years, Limerick haven’t been winning them. What you are seeing is the academy developing hurlers so they can progress up to minor, U21, and senior level.
“The emphasis isn’t on winning at underage. It is about educating them and giving them proper lifestyle habits. That’s what development squads are about.”
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