Earlier this year, following the exit of the minor hurlers from the Leinster championship, County Chairman Diarmuid Deveraux announced the collapsing of the underage structures and commissioning of an external report into the situation in minor hurling. This was done by a working group under Michael O’Grady involving Dave Bernie, Jim Bolger and the late Justin Prendergast. The full report follows below:
MINOR HURLING REVIEW AND AUDIT 2015
We wish to put on record our deep sadness at the sudden death of our colleague Justin Prendergast. He was the driving force behind our small working group and his energy and commitment was admirable. He had an exciting vision for Wexford hurling and he was only too willing to play his part.
We dedicate this short report to him and hope that in some way it does justice to his memory.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
The main purpose of this report is to review and audit the barriers to consistent and competitive performance at minor level and to make short to medium term recommendations to eliminate or manage those barriers. Over the past two months we sent questionnaires to over 110 different hurling people including schools, clubs and management committee. Only 40 were returned completed. We spoke to thirty people who are very involved with underage hurling in Wexford. We thank all for their responses and co-operation.
At the outset we feel the need to emphasise that all is not doom and gloom. When we spoke to hurling people from other counties they remarked that they saw a marked improvement in many facets of hurling in Wexford in recent years. They referred to the improved skill level of the senior hurling team, the outstanding success of JJ.Doyle’s u-21’s in winning three successive Leinster titles and the better standard of hurling displayed by squad and college teams. The Ferns Centre of Excellence is another example of progress and is a wonderful amenity and if used properly should be of great help to all teams and squads. The Games Development Team and the Coaching Office are very proactive in promoting best practice in all relevant areas.
The issues that are causing concern are
- The failure of so many clubs to drive the Hurling 365 programme.
- The glut of fixtures at certain times of the year.
- Management of the dual player
- The fear that the unique Wexford hurling culture is diminishing.
- The poor standard of hurling in many clubs and schools.
While our main focus is on the minor age group we feel the need to comment on the years leading up to this grade. We make recommendations for each area. Time and time again we were told that it was time to act on reports and to stop talking about them. We are aware of reports done in the past five years and not all recommendations from these reports have been acted upon. We suggest that an audit of all these reports be carried out and any outstanding issues should be dealt with.
Minor Grade and College Competitions
Some people say that there is an obsession with winning at this level. The records show that only an average of 4 All-Ireland winning minors go on to play senior hurling with their county team. While it is important that the minors play to win it is more important that they are competitive and that they are being prepared to represent their county at u-21 and senior level. Some Wexford minor teams in recent years have been unlucky in being defeated by the narrowest of margins. The fact that Wexford are u-21 Leinster champions for the past three years gives credence to this idea. However, if the desire is to win a Leinster minor hurling title, then certain things need to change.
The main barrier to a guaranteed improved performance at minor level at the moment is the conflict between college,squad, club and county teams. Some young talented players are obliged to play and train too often at certain times of the year. For example one player had twelve games and nine training sessions this year in the month of March. These games included 5 club games. Needless to say this is an example of mindless overload and can lead to burnout and is against all tenets of good practice and players welfare. The minor management team this year had to wait until early April to have a full panel together to prepare for a championship game two weeks later. Losing to the All-Ireland champions Kilkenny after extra time was no disgrace. However, a round of club championship games was fixed for a Sunday, 24 hours after the minors played and lost to Westmeath. Some of the players were more focused on the club game than on the game v Westmeath. This is no way to prepare a team for a Leinster championship. All those involved with these young players – clubs, colleges, county management teams and fixtures committees, must ensure that the player’s welfare is central and the player must not be pressurised to play or train too often in a typical week. They also need to appreciate that the player would like to play and train with all teams. Obviously this is not possible so we are recommending the appointment of a Special Welfare/Advisory Person who will work with the young player, the parents and the team mentors to avoid overload and possible burnout. The contribution of school/college teams is greatly appreciated and the teachers and school managements are valued for their contribution to Wexford hurling.
The current Wexford policy on dual players has not brought any real success to either code. It is generally agreed now that it is not physically possible to maximise one’s potential at both codes. We suggest that dual players be allowed on squad teams up to age 15. After that players should opt for one code only. This will give other players a chance of representing their county.
- The Minor Hurling Manager should be chosen by a committee of the chairpersons of the Hurling Advisory Committee, The Post Primary Schools Committee, The Games Development Committee, in consultation with the Games Development Manager. Decisions should be made on a scientific approach which would have been measured by ensuring the relevant management buy into coach education and the development squad structure.
- The minor manager should get a three year term subject to an annual review.
- He should also be part of the under 16 and under 17 management teams.
- At least one member of the management team should have Award 2 Coaching Qualifications. . The other members of the team should have at least foundation level qualifications.
- Members of the management team should be involved with the Combined Colleges Team.
- Ideally a teacher from St. Peter’s College and from Good Counsel College should be part of the minor management team.
- The county’s Strength and Conditioning Coach should be made available to the minor and college teams.
- A Special Welfare/Advisory Person should be appointed to liaise with all in charge of teams to ensure that the player’s welfare is always prioritised. All team managers and mentors must accept the decisions of this person.
- The County Board should ensure that all schools and colleges promoting gaelic games are assisted with funding and any other help required.
- Only players who are no longer involved with their colleges should be considered for the Leinster League.
- There should be no dual players on the minor hurling panel.
- Wexford Co. Board should support the proposal to change the minor age from under 18 to under 17.
- Wexford Co. Board should endeavour to get Leinster minor championship games played on a Wednesday evening rather than on a Saturday. This would leave Sunday available for club games.
Model Academies [Squads u-13 to u-17]
The main aim of the squad system is to ensure that the County has a supply of top class elite hurlers to represent Wexford especially at senior level. Almost every person interviewed believes that the squad system is the best way to go. However, a squad is as good as it’s coaches.
- All squad management teams should be appointed by the Games Development Manager in consultation with The Games Development Committee and The Hurling Advisory Committee.
- The new structure and policy outlined by The Games Development Committee must be adhered to at all times.
- The Games Development Manager should prepare a coaching manual for all squad teams.
- One mentor for each squad should have Award 2 Coaching Qualification and the other mentors should have at least foundation level qualifications.
- A Strength and Conditioning Coach should work with all squads.
- All squad management teams should have an annual review with the The Games Development Management Team
- There should be no dual players on u-16 and u-17 squad panels.
- A liaison person should be appointed to liaise with the County Board on behalf of all squads in relation to fixtures, equipment and budgeting.
Top quality coaching separates the good teams from the average teams. From the feedback received there is a general agreement that the quality of coaching in the county is not good enough. More emphasis needs to be on first touch hurling, speed of thought etc. Some young players lack the basic skills and the danger is that they will never catch up and will eventually give up the game.
- The Games Development Manager should ensure that top quality coaching courses are offered to all those interested in coaching teams in Wexford.
- Teachers at Primary and Second Level should be offered Foundation Awards and Workshops.
- Clubs should ensure that all their team coaches have coaching qualifications.
‘ Hurling 365/Wexford GAA promotes and supports the coming together of clubs and schools to provide weekly coaching for children. Initiated by the Hurling Advisory Committee and supported by the Wexford Coaching and Games Development Committee and The Rackard League Committee, the programme is based on successful models in Kilkenny, Clare and Waterford. It is a volunteer driven model which empowers clubs and schools to shape their own future development and to equip children with the key skills and of course an enduring love of the game.’ [ www.wexfordgaa.ie]
Kilkenny attribute their success to the trojan work being done at National Schools level. Not all Primary Schools have teachers who are interested in promoting hurling. Schools that have such teachers should be cherished by the GAA in Wexford and given every support needed. Great disappointment has been expressed by many people at the failure of clubs and schools to really work the Hurling 365 programme. If given a real chance it could go a long way to ensuring a brighter future for Wexford hurling. The successful clubs at the moment have bought into this project and it is reaping great dividends. Less than one quarter of Primary Schools are involved with Hurling 365. This is totally unacceptable. Some clubs state that they cannot get enough volunteers to agree to give an hour a week to visit the local schools. The Wexford GAA website and the official GAA website [gaa.ie] have a series of coaching booklets and other resources to make running a typical session very easy for all. More use could be made of the CE/VTOS scheme.. There is funding available for clubs who play their part in promoting Hurling 365.
The Hurling Advisory Committee Blueprint for Wexford Hurling stated that ‘if we did nothing else extra for the next five years except to get the National School/Club system up and running it would have a major positive impact’. Clubs must work much harder at getting more volunteers on board and must offer them appropriate training. Individuals who love Wexford hurling must get off the ditch and volunteer to help their local club and schools. Ní neart go cur le chéile.
Wexford and Kilkenny are hosting Féile na nGael in 2017 and this may show up how far behind some Wexford clubs are.
- Every club should have a Schools liaison Person who will ensure that Hurling 365 is promoted in all schools in the parish. This person needs to be highly motivated, a good organiser and willing and able to get people to come on board and play their part in doing some coaching in the local schools. He should have a coaching programme for all classes so that the coaches/volunteers know what to do. At the end of each school year pupils should undergo a skills audit to see how they have progressed .
We are aware that a lot of hard work is going on in the four urban towns in Wexford. Because of its increasing population Wexford Town needs special support.
- The County Board should make Wexford Town a pilot project for a three year period. A full time coach should be appointed to work with all schools and clubs in the area chosen. Every assistance possible should be provided.
- The County Council is actively promoting sport in urban areas. It may be possible to get some help from them.
Justin Prendergast RIP
August 31st 2015.