Mol an óige, agus tiocfaidh siad

Expanding on the theme of looking after those at the bottom of the GAA pile, there was a letter in today’s Sindo lamenting the problem of nurturing the next generation (h/t to arock on AFR):

GAA’s crony war leaves sour taste

It is with a heavy heart I write this letter, to highlight the level of cronyism that exists in underage GAA in my locality and I am sure throughout the length and breadth of Ireland.

This should be a happy and exciting time for U14 players waiting eagerly for the start of the Féile competition, especially the ones who have been training like senior inter-county players since last winter!

I am a parent of one of those boys who has given 100% commitment in attendance and training all year, whose ‘work-rate’ is second to none and whose position on the team at present is unquestionable. Yes, I’m sure you are saying to yourself  ‘here we go again, another mouthing parent saying how their Johnny is being discriminated against’. However, this is not the case. I have no illusions about my ‘Johnny’. He is not the star player, and never will be, but he makes a valuable contribution. He has heart, drive, motivation and skill; as a team player, he is always eager to share the ball. This has been noted by many spectators and parents on numerous occasions.

My son is diabetic and has to work as hard off the field as on the field, especially on days of training and matches to adjust his insulin-injections and food consumption in order to boost and control his energy levels. However, he never dwells on this, nor would he ever use his diabetes as an excuse to miss training, even if it meant occasionally having to give an extra injection.

My heart hurts as I recall how my son and another member of the U14s were dropped off the team last week for one of the championship matches, without notice, cause or reason. I can still see my son’s face of bewilderment and frustration at this injustice. Regrettably he’s now contemplating giving up hurling.

I am all for putting out your best team and this should always stand; equally I believe that anyone who is not performing should be taken off and a sub put on in their place. It is only right and fair. U12 hurlers of late have been replacing U14 players on the team, not all of them for their greater ability or skill, but due only to cronyism. There was huge speculation and disapproval by many parents and spectators at the dropping of U14 boys, who only have one chance of competing in this Féile na nGael 2010, whereas U12 players will have two more years of competing in it.

I am full of admiration for the extraordinary work, time, effort and commitment that trainers voluntarily put in, working with our young people at underage level. I myself am privileged to work with young people on both a professional and a voluntary basis. However, this issue is bigger than hurling. We do not and should not have a free rein. We are accountable to these young people at this very vulnerable stage in their lives. We cannot shatter their ideals and beliefs and make them think that integrity, performance, work-rate, dedication and commitment don’t matter . . . it’s just who you are and who you know.

This is fundamentally wrong. We have a duty of care and a responsibility to promote fairness and positivity in these roles that we hold. We must encourage and tell them how wonderful and great they are as it is so important to praise young people rather than to criticise them.

My husband is a fair man and very impartial but was gutted by the incident last week. His words of consolation were ‘sure it was the same in my day’. Well, it should not be the same in this day and age. It is high time that the GAA had a good look at how underage management and coaches are trained for the privilege they hold, working with and training our young people.

In order for personal, social and cultural development amongst our young people to flourish, emphasis must be put on proper and appropriate means for teaching the skills of our native sport through fair, fun and friendly methods and cronyism must be abhorred.

Name and address with editor

I remember this feeling all too well. We were playing a match in Mooncoin and being massacred as usual – quite ironic on the evening when Waterford took a bit of a beating there tonight. Our coach took a player off and waved in the direction of the subs for someone to go on. We had a conference of sorts and agreed he was waving at me. I pulled on one of the handful of shirts we had amongst us and ran on. Moments later one of my fellow subs trotted up behind me and informed me that it seemed it was him who was meant to come on.

At the time I didn’t think too much of it – it’s not as if there was a crowd there to revel in the car crash. But a few games later I realised I hadn’t pucked a ball in anger, the only one on the panel who hadn’t. I told him that I didn’t see the point in coming down any more if I couldn’t get a match even when we were being stuffed to which he replied “yeah, you’re probably a bit young” (not true, there were several younger than me). It was difficult to choke back the hot tears as I climbed into my mother’s jalopy that was spiriting me away from the horror and I took a very jaundiced, nay, rancid attitude towards the GAA for a few years after that, only being rescued by the euphoria of Waterford winning the All-Ireland Under-21 title.

I’m not saying I was any good. I was absolutely useless: wrong hand on top of the hurley, no left side, utterly cowardly in the clash. The usual caveats about admiring the work done by underage coaches absolutely apply to our one, a man who has given far more to the world in his work for the club than he ever took out of it. But I had enthusiasm to burn, and to manage to burn through all of that before the age of 15 was quite an achievement. The GAA doesn’t have the luxury of soccer and rugby of being able to piggy-back on the efforts of others in the sport throughout the world. No one could do a tap to nurture soccer in Ireland and people would still want to play the game to emulate the likes of Lionel Messi. Good luck trying to get the next John Mullane if the next John Mullane has no one to take on.