The constant conundrum in terms of player development, especially those at underage, is how best to balance things in terms of games and training.
Too many matches, with too much riding on them, can place the focus on winning without necessarily employing the right skills, but too few games and a surfeit of training can dull the competitive edge.
It’s an even more loaded question in the current climate, as young players return to the playing fields after so much inactivity. In such circumstances, Colm Crowley – one of the five full-time games development administrators (GDAs) operating in Cork – believes that it’s a case of the more games, the better – once the result isn’t the be-all and the end-all.
“We all have different opinions on it,” he says.
“I’d be a firm believer in playing games as much as possible. I know, compared to 20 years ago, when U12 was probably the first time you wore a club jersey, we now have U7s wearing club jerseys and you have players aged nine upwards who have basically lost out on a year and a half of development.
“You look at the Cork minor team going out in 2022, they’ve had no real development squad work and I’m not just focused on the elite side of it. If you go down to the grassroots, the kids playing for the social side of it who want to be out because their friends are there and who are coming back after a long time, the one thing we’d be saying to coaches is to keep it as fun and as interactive as possible.
“You always hear about the 98 percent versus the two percent in terms of inter-county, but if you really break it down to the amount of kids playing sport at a given time, inter-county senior is 0.001 percent of what is there.
Ultimately, matches are the test of a player’s skill, providing the education on what else must be learned.
“If there aren’t enough games there, people will walk away and that’s the biggest challenge the GAA has,” Crowley says, “holding back the mentor who wants to do more training and just letting them play games, where they can get better themselves and learn their deficiencies.
“If my handpass is very bad and if it happens in a match where the flaw shows up, I’m much more likely to work on it with the coach when he’s trying to improve it. But if the coach is saying, ‘We need to improve our handpassing,’ and all I want to do is play a game, it can be very difficult.
“That’s a major thing – going out and playing a game, putting on the club jersey but not worrying about the result too much. That’s one thing that Covid had shone a light on, people are conscious of all of the other external factors rather than just winning.”
Crowley, a Bandon native who has lived in Killeagh from a young age, is tasked with covering clubs in Carrigdhoun and Muskerry. If that seems like a big area in a county the size of Cork, it’s because it is.
“When you look at other counties and how many clubs they have, even within Munster, Kerry might have 10 clubs per GDA, whereas we’re talking 20-25,” he says.
“It’s very difficult to get any handle on the clubs on the ground. A few clubs, like Bishopstown and Blarney, have one between them and that allows them to really get into the nitty-gritty – what’s going well and what they can improve on.
"When you’re doing a flying visit two or three times a year, it’s hard to get a grasp on what’s actually going on in a club.
“One thing we’d love to be able to do would be to help out with the structures and the coaching education, but it’s just so infrequently that we get around to each club. I know that James McCarthy has the guts of 40 clubs and it’s the same with Pat Spratt.
“In fairness, the clubs that look for help get it, but if they all looked for it, things would get tight! We’re focusing a lot on primary and post-primary schools because you get good bang for the buck – if James McCarthy is in Hammies [Hamilton High School] in Bandon or De La Salle in Macroom, there are five or six clubs benefiting out of that.
However, through necessity, the clubs themselves have taken up the running.
“I wouldn’t say [the job] is firefighting,” Crowley says, “because clubs are very functional and, compared to when I started seven years ago, they’re very organised and have very good people involved.
“A lot of clubs are putting the should to the wheel themselves and driving on to make the best of what they can internally, which is great because that’s what a GAA club essentially needs. They can’t be looking outside for all the help, they have to drive it from inside and then getting a small bit of help from outside would be the ideal situation.”