LIMERICK underage hurling received another shot in the arm last weekend with the county U-15 side winning a Croke Park organised tournament.
The Leo O’Connor managed side beat Clare, Galway and Offaly.
The U-16 inter-divisional sides were also in action in recent times as all inter-county underage sides begin their countdown towards their respective competitions in August.
The current underage set-up originates in 2011 when a document for Limerick underage hurling was formulated.
Aine MacNamara, a lecturer in Elite Sports Performance and Exercise Psychology, was one of those involved in the strategy document.
While Limerick won the Munster minor title last Summer - a first since 1984 - MacNamara continues to stress the long-term development of players over short term success.
“There was a recognition that the underage set-up needed to be addressed in order to meet the needs of young hurlers as they progressed in the sport and ultimately broaden the talent pool available to Limerick,” she recalls.
“Within underage sport there is often a tension between short-term success and long-term development - young hurlers often miss crucial, long-term development opportunities because of a misplaced focus on performance - winning as the priority at underage levels - rather than learning and development towards senior success.
“The focus within the Talent Academies recognises this shift in philosophy away from short-term success to long-term development with the emphasis firmly placed on developing a deep pool of young players with the skills and abilities to compete at senior level,” explains MacNamara.
“It is important, in order to develop effective pathways for young hurlers, that our schools, clubs, colleges and county teams work in partnership to maximise the opportunity for all players to participate at all levels of the game.
“Working together, we can ensure that players at all levels are provided with an appropriate programme of games and coaching as well as an effective pathway for aspiring intercounty players.”
The underage structure is overseen by a monitoring committee and this is made up of Joe McKenna, Eibhear O’Dea, Liam Hayes and Limerick GAA secretary Michael O’Riordan.
Within each age-group management team there is a manager, two or three coaches, an IT man, kit-man and a full time coach (GDA).
For 2014 the managers are; Brian Ryan (minor), John Mulqueen (U-17), Pat Donnelly (U-16), Leo O’Connor (U-15) and Brian Finn (U-14).
“Coaches, of course, play a central role in developing young players. Previously, although we had many enthusiastic coaches working with the system there wasn’t enough long-term cooperation, collaboration or community, with squads and coaches often working in isolation,” recalled MacNamara.
“The coach mentorship programme was developed to provide opportunities for coaches working with underage squads to work together to develop their coaching skills, through formal and informal workshops and networks, and ensure that we are developing the next generation of both Limerick players and coaches.
“Establishing this ‘community of practice’ within Limerick hurling ensures that there is coherence and cooperation between coaches at all levels of the pathway as they prepare players for the next step - essentially that we are all learning from and with each other towards a common goal.”
Supplementing the coaches is Jerry Wallace, who works as coach to the minor team but also plays a key role as head coach working with all coaches to ensure a common approach across all the underage squads.
Andy Murphy also works across all squads on the strength and conditioning of players.
While there was success in Coolderry, Co Offaly for the U-15 team last weekend, there was no silverware for the two U-16 inter-divisional squads.
Attention now turns to the varying inter-county competitions in August.
The U-14 squad have assembled an initial panel and are participating in coaching sessions each Saturday morning at 10am and the U-17 squad have held trials in recent weeks and have also put an initial panel in place to prepare for the Mallow tournament in August.
Of course the minors are now preparing to face Cork in a Munster semi-final on June 26.