HAVING been through the Cork underage system as a player relatively recently, Jamie Wall knows the progress that has been made.
A dual county minor in 2010, Wall, as coach, led the Cork U16 hurlers to All-Ireland victory earlier this month, but says that the development of more than 50 players trumped the silverware.
Wall says that the coaching continuity for underage sides is maximising player development. The Cork minor football side is a prime example of that, their All-Ireland win the culmination of three years under Bobbie O’Dwyer, and Wall says that greatly helps.
“I think it’s very important with kids this age, who have so much more going on in their lives, nowadays, that you have a manager and a management team that has built up a relationship with them,” he says.
“Especially when you move to a two-year age-group, like minor is, it’s important to have a reference point from both. I would personally feel strongly that you need to have people who know the players.
“Some guys will get on with you and trust you very early; some guys are born bolder; some are introverts and it takes them a long time to warm to it. That’s the way young fellas are. In my brief time teaching, I’ve seen that and I’m surrounded by teachers who say the same thing.
“They mightn’t be performing well and it’s about looking at the other reasons why. At this age, it’s about being the opposite of ruthless; being holistic. Is it his love-life, is it school, is there some family situation? You spend so much time getting to know them over the couple of years, it’s an awful shame if it gets lost.
“What’s happening now is that there are really good coaches in at underage, so the long-term plan is that it might look like a one-year term as minor manager, but what it actually is is that your term starts at U15 and lasts for three years, so that you can develop the group, rather than just parachuting someone in cold at minor level.
“This is going to improve again. It has been good for the last few years, but with Aidan O’Connell in now [as high-performance director], it’ll kick up another notch and you’ll have another level of expertise. I think that that’s a progressive pathway to follow.”
Cork beat Limerick and Tipperary to claim the A-grade tournament in Mallow. The panel was based on the widest possible casting of the net.
“Six of the lads went up to the minor squad, so they were gone for most of the year, and, at the start of the year, we had the shell of the previous year’s panel together,” he says.
“We just made a decision, as a management team, that we were going to reduce the numbers down to a 17-, 18-man panel and start again. It was something said to me when I was younger: as a management team, you can get lazy, ‘There’s my panel of 48,’ and it can be like a semi-state job, where they pass up through U14, U15, U16, but it’s totally ignorant of reality, which is that different fellas are developing at different ages.
“Cork is massive and there could be a young fella that you’ve never heard of and 15 or 16 was when he decided to kick on. It would be us not doing our jobs not to have an eye out for that.
“I’ve often taken issue with the quote about the mushrooms. Not to say that I’m hammering the greats of Cork hurling, but I actually think it’s the wrong analogy. I think that diamonds is a lot better comparison.
“The thing about mushrooms is that they’re not there one minute and then they are, but that’s never been the case. They’ve always been there in Cork — some of them are at the rock-face and some need a bit of digging.
“The players are there, if you just do your job. It’s too much of a sporting county, with too high a population, for the talent not to be there.”
And clubs help by providing pitches. “Ballymartle, Blarney, Bandon, Carrigtwohill, Erin’s Owen dug us out of a hole one day and they couldn’t wait to help,” he says.
“Over the course of the summer, we had Brian Murphy and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín coming in to do sessions with our backs, too. They couldn’t wait to do something for Cork. Guys are waiting to be asked to help. There’s loads of goodwill there. You just have to harness it.”