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Jack Barrett, left, and Kieran Hurley, of Cobh in action against Jevon Casey, of Kilmoyley, during the Go Games provincial days in partnership with Littlewoods Ireland at Croke Park. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Jack Barrett, left, and Kieran Hurley, of Cobh in action against Jevon Casey, of Kilmoyley, during the Go Games provincial days in partnership with Littlewoods Ireland at Croke Park. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
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Kids are well able to play free-flowing underage matches without parents and mentors getting carried away

WITH the seemingly endless winter giving way to a bit of decent weather, underage GAA activity is cranking up on Leeside, pulling all the kids away from playing Fortnite on their computers.

A host of clubs staged juvenile hurling and football games last Saturday and Sunday, ranging from U8 blitzes to individual matches at U9, U10 and U11. The current programme has evolved from the Monster Blitz format first introduced for the U8 and U10 age groups in Rebel county, and is logistically easier to manage for the Games Development Administrators – GDAs – who are stretched thin in their duties which include regional development and work in the schools.

Delanys' Adam Lehane inn action against St James at the Rebel Óg blitz last year. Picture: Gavin Browne
Delanys' Adam Lehane inn action against St James at the Rebel Óg blitz last year. Picture: Gavin Browne

The hugely popular John Kerins’ Memorial Football Tournament for U11s also commenced last weekend, with hosts St Finbarr’s, Glanmire, regular winners Douglas and Éire Óg among the main contenders. With the group stages complete the knockout phase will take place on June 16.

Unlike most GAA for the youngest age groups, the John Kerins is a proper competition, with a trophy for the winners like the Cashman Cup equivalent hosted by Blackrock for U10 hurling. The Go Games model is used in the majority of hurling and football events from U11 down in Cork, and all official Rebel Óg matches at these ages. While there are leagues at U12 and U13, full championship mode only kicks in at U14.

The last U12 counties were held eight years ago, with Ballincollig the football victors and Sars capturing the hurling silverware. Interestingly while both clubs dominated all the way up to U16, neither group managed to deliver when they were ‘on the age’ at minor in 2016, Nemo and Na Piarsaigh instead winning the big prizes.

There’s a lesson in that about how challenging it is to convert even the most gifted groups of young guns into serial winners. That’s exactly the argument GDA Colm Crowley was making last week when he issued a warning to the mentors and parents attending underage games.

“We have some very unsavory incidents so far,” wrote Crowley this week. “We have had a parent so enraged by a mentor’s behavior refereeing an U8 game, that he felt the need to confront the opposing mentor after the match.

“We have had a punch up on the sideline between parents and mentors. We have had a parent threatening a young referee.

“While some people may think this is acceptable, I want to assure you that it is not. It is wholly inappropriate and not what we aim to achieve by coordinating this games program.”

 GDA's Paudie O'Brien and Colm Crowley, on duty at a Rebel Óg U8 hurling blitz. Picture: David Keane.
GDA's Paudie O'Brien and Colm Crowley, on duty at a Rebel Óg U8 hurling blitz. Picture: David Keane.

The Killeagh native, whose brother Seán is also a GDA, has vast experience, including a stint working in Dublin, and is a pragmatic and highly committed individual. He felt he had no choice but to call out the minority who are creating problems at matches where the main aims are enjoyment and player development.

“There is no prize for being the Go Games mentor with the most wins, there is no prize for winning every game, there is no prize for beating everyone else,” stated Crowley in his email. “Long-term development and producing children that have become rounded individuals with a skill-set to get them through life, be it in the sporting field or otherwise should take top priority.

“This Go Games program is coordinated by me as an addition to my role as a GDA, and it is a role that I get immense satisfaction and enjoyment from, seeing so many kids get weekly games in hurling and football.

“It was deemed that a conclusive games program for U7-U11 would assist all clubs in Cork improve and give each child in each club an equal opportunity to develop as a player with equal amount of games in hurling and/or football.”

As you rise up through the ranks and the age groups the stakes get higher and so does the fire and fury you associate with championship. The tension in the air, and physicality and raw passion on display are, as much as the skill, what makes the GAA so engrossing.

Glen Rovers' Daniel Murphy being challenged by Na Piarsaigh's Kevin Sheehan in the recent Rebel Óg Carrigaline Court Hotel MHC clash. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Glen Rovers' Daniel Murphy being challenged by Na Piarsaigh's Kevin Sheehan in the recent Rebel Óg Carrigaline Court Hotel MHC clash. Picture: Denis Minihane.

It’s certainly vital that young players aren’t mollycoddled because hurling and football are contact sports, but in the Go Games system that shouldn’t require coaches and parents shouting and roaring abuse or disputing every decision made by the young refs provided by the host clubs. Children naturally keep track of who wins or lose the games and while the scores are kept to assist with grading from U12 onwards, there are no trophies or proper finals from U8 to U11 to take the pressure off.

Clubs are paired off on the basis of playing numbers in one-, two- and three-team sections to give every kid the maximum time on the pitch and minimise subs. For the bigger panels, matches can be streamed so players are matched against those at a similar stage of their development which gives everyone more meaningful touches of the ball; the only way to get better.

The Go Games approach isn’t perfect but it’s a vast improvement on the old way of in-house training and challenge matches before heading straight into an U12 championship.

Crowley finished by stating: “I want to ask you all, one last time in 2018, respect the referee, respect your players, respect the opposition and finally respect yourself.”

We should all remember that next time we coach or just go to watch kids in action. The cut and thrust of real championship action will arrive before we know it.