Minor Pasting Underlines a Major Problem

Brian Flannery Reports
Will Waterford develop a plan for Football?

I was at a juvenile game last Wednesday when one of the lads asked me did I know how the minor footballers fared. I said I’d check Twitter and relayed the score – Cork 2-13 Waterford 0-03 – and then had to break the bad news that that was just the half-time score.
Inter-county football appears to be in terminal decline in Waterford and has been for quite some time. Some might say that throwing young Waterford footballers in against the likes of Cork or Kerry is unfair and counter-productive.
County Board Chairman Paddy Joe Ryan has, in the past, also suggested that a graded competition similar to hurling would make far more sense rather than throwing our young footballers to wolves clad in red and white and green and gold anyway.
But even that assessment, for me, misses the bigger point in relation to Waterford football when it comes to the county’s fortunes at inter-county level.
Just 12 months ago, Waterford’s minor footballers suffered a 17-point defeat to Clare. Waterford have also suffered at the hands of Tipperary at underage in recent years so any assessment that places the focus on the strength of the opposition is unlikely to provide the correct solution.

Tom Flynn’s passion for football is as unquestionable as it is admirable. But the job he faces as Deise Minor boss is the equivalent of rowing against the tide in the absence of a Strategic Plan.

Tom Flynn’s passion for football is as unquestionable as it is admirable. But the job he faces as Deise Minor boss is the equivalent of rowing against the tide in the absence of a Strategic Plan.

The problem for Waterford inter-county football lies much closer to home. A number of years ago following another defeat for our minor football team I enquired from a colleague as to the reaction of clubs at next County Board meeting.
I imagined concern bordering on uproar, a heated debate, calls for emergency plans and strategic reviews but to my amazement there wasn’t a dicky bird. Not a single club (from the 12 senior football clubs in Waterford) as much as mentioned the shellacking suffered by the minors. Does this demonstrate a severe lack of interest among clubs, including the football clubs?
Over a long number of years, the now retired Waterford county secretary Timmy O’Keeffe frequently chastised the football clubs regarding their lack of support for the county football teams and in particular the clubs’ inability to nominate and provide mentors for the inter-county football panels.
In his submission to the 2017 Annual County Convention, Coaching Officer Mac Dara MacDonncha, spoke in length at the difficulty in recruiting volunteers to act as mentors to the football development squads. While there were seven hurling development squads in 2017 there were but two when it came to football.
The issue of adequately funding these development squads (hurling and football) was also raised as a major challenge for all those involved.
Waterford’s senior footballers also face their own challenges. Division Four has been proven a cold and lonely place for Waterford footballers as a single victory over London this year indicates.
Without a single victory in the Munster senior football championship since 2008 and since the introduction of the Qualifiers, Waterford have managed just a single victory, versus fellow Division Four side Wicklow. Last year’s near miss against Cork aside, results have been pretty miserable.
The late Kevin Casey, of WLR, a passionate football man as one would expect of a Kerry native, on a near annual basis, would host a discussion on the future of Waterford football.

Interested parties would assemble in studio, along with a County Board representative, while listeners offered everything from possible solutions to sympathy to significant apathy. Another attempt at such a show would probably generate the same in-studio comment but wouldn’t yield any significant about turn in the immediate or longer term.
Waterford’s senior footballers are ranked anywhere from 30th to 33rd and without a well-run and resourced underage football set-up, this isn’t changing anytime soon.
In GAA young talent will nearly always choose the code which offers the best opportunity of success, i.e. hurling in Waterford.
That said, there are many good footballers who aren’t on hurling panels who have chosen to not make themselves available.
This is a vicious circle. From top to bottom and bottom up inter-county football in Waterford is indeed on its knees. There do not appear to be any signs of ‘green shoots’, while new minor manager Tom Flynn knows all the rowing he’ll do over the next two to three years will be firmly against the tide.

Bur what could be done to improve inter-county football in Waterford? In the spirit of offering solutions as opposed to merely outlining problems, here’s my two cents.

1: Appoint a Director of Football
This potential brief has been frequently discussed, often promised but never delivered on. Such a role would not prove a panacea for all Waterford’s football’s ills but surely a starting point which affords the possibility of future success. John Evans occupied a similar role in Tipperary for a number of years as a full-time paid official and made significant progress at underage and schools level in the Premier. Of course, such an appointment needs funding and support.

2: Develop a Strategic Plan
Yes Waterford football needs a man (Director of Football) and a plan (a Strategic one). Sure how do we know where we’re going or where we want to go if we don’t have a plan? A detailed plan with timelines and goals is a minimum. This may include, for example, qualifying for a Minor and Under-21 Munster final within five years, winning one within 10 years and the like.

3: Let youngsters play both codes
The practice adopted by some hurling coaches dissuading players from being involved with inter-county football panels must stop. Now that minor is gone to Under-17, it should be possible for players to play both hurling and football to at least to minor level. At a recent sports conference I attended the speaker told his audience that not only can a secondary school student play two sports adequately but that they should play two different codes at least to the age of 17. Early specialisation in a single sport is believed to lead to many over-use injuries while involvement in multiple sports makes players better all-round athletes.

4: The clubs must support change

Without greater support from the football clubs in Waterford, the inter-county game here is dead in the water. This is the greatest challenge. Without sufficient volunteers and better support all is lost. Waterford clubs like Stradbally, The Nire and Ballinacourty have competed strongly at Munster Club level but whether the commitment of all clubs to Waterford’s inter-county football teams is sufficient right now is a question that each individual football club must answer.

Of course, there is an alternative option. A nuclear option: Waterford could always follow the Kilkenny template and abandon inter-county football altogether.
While Kilkenny are rightly criticised for their meek commitment to GAA’s second code, perhaps it’s more honest – in a sense.
Given the absence of a plan and what appears to be accepted resignation to heavy defeat after heavy defeat at underage level, there is no discernible sign to create an adequately funded, year-on-year drive to get Waterford football moving in the right direction.
And when things don’t change, they tend to stay the same.

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