Limerick hurling academy in need of new focus
For many years now I have strongly supported the role that the Limerick underage academy has played in Limerick GAA.
I think only for them, very little development would have taken in recent years.
The academy raised the standards of coaching and young players got a chance to develop in an environment that was good for them, club and county.
The underage teams may not have done that well in the various tournaments, but players did improve and many only found real form when they got to minor level.
Only for the progress of the past few years, Limerick would have had very little to shout about. Winning those back to back minor titles in Munster gave a great foundation for U21 teams and many of those players will serve Limerick at senior level.
For all its good, I now think the academy has gone stale. It needs to be reinvented and it may need a new energy. In fact I would think the base of people running the academy also needs to be expanded.
Other counties have learned from Limerick and they are now gone a few steps ahead of us. Will the academy keep doing what they have done in recent years? Do they have the capacity now to charter a new direction?
One thing is for sure, without the academy the fortunes of Limerick would have been very poor. The base of players would not be what it is and very little success would have come our way.
The future of any organisation is always dependent on its ability to change and change can be difficult at times for people. Life before the academy was less organised in Limerick GAA. The County Board hoped success would happen rather than put structures in place that would make it happen.
It took vision to bring the academy into the hurling landscape in Limerick and Joe McKenna played a key role in this. Eibhear O’Dea also played a vital role while the support of Gerry McManus provided key financial independence. They didn’t have it all their own way because there were a number of people trying to undermine the vision they had.
The Academy has done great work and the many people that have looked after various teams must not be forgotten either.
They gave time, effort and passion for the good of Limerick hurling. The only disappointment for many of them was that they left the academy with a sour taste.
This was a failing of the academy in my eyes. Some promotions and demotions were not handled well and that was a great pity because so many good people have been lost to the academy and to Limerick hurling.
The main focus of the academy is to develop players, make them better players and make them better people. It should also be about developing coaches, managers and selectors and while it has had some success in this regard it can also be said that many talented people have been lost and sadly will never get involved with Limerick GAA again.
Lessons need to be learned from these experiences or mistakes of the past will continue to happen.
The hurling academy has always operated outside the control of the County Board. That allowed them a license to do their own thing in many respects but there was many challenges over the past few years.
Sometimes it went down to the wire but the academy always seemed to get its way. It nearly always centred around the appointment of managers.
Limerick won the minor title in 2013 and I found it laughable there were some who tried their best to stop the re-appointment of the then manager for 2014.
I have for a few years now mentioned in these pages that the academy needs to be expanded. It has to be about more players. It has to be for the good of players now but also the players that will not develop at the same pace as others.
One size does not fit all. I referred to the fact that young players see rejection too early and this can go on for a few years.
By the time many of these lads are minors they have left the game.
Making players elite at such a young age is a mantle they should not carry. It needs to be an environment of learning and fun attached. Instead, in my view, it has become too serious and that’s not good for players and parents expectations are also raised.
The academy in Limerick needs expansion and to this end it needs a base in each of the Divisions. It’s necessary to have 30 players at all levels from U14 to U17.
These teams then would feed into the academy. It cannot be just about the few. It must be about developing players that might not play with the county now but about the lads that might be good enough a few years later.
Dan Joy is an example of this. The Kilmallock lad is doing well at corner back for the Limerick U21 team. I may be wrong but I don’t have a recollection of him as part of the academy. Players develop at different stages and the academy needs to foster that.
For years now parents have put in a huge effort to get players to Rathkeale for training. That puts huge pressure and expense on them. By having it in their own Division would help enormously. I see Cork have adopted this policy now and they have also dropped the tag of “A & B” teams. It’s now known as Red and White. This is the way it should be. Data will show in Limerick that more lads came through from “B” teams than “A” teams.
Cork have moved the development of players forward substantially. They have learned lessons from their mistakes. They have moved forward and the facts show that they have dominated underage tournaments over the past few years. The future looks really bright for them. They have good people involved and kept them. Sadly in Limerick, I feel that so many good people were disrespected and treated badly.
Standing still is not an option for the academy or Limerick. The focus of the academy was good and delivered but it has to change and change fast.
It has to go after some of the good people they lost. It has to adopt a different approach. It has to expand its objectives for the good of more players. If they do that then clubs in the divisions will also benefit. There has been a great lack of leadership in Limerick GAA. It’s been that way for years now, the only shining light was the academy. It has helped enormously in bringing silverware to the county but it needs to re-evaluate where it now stands.
What are its goals for the future and how best can they lead the development of Limerick underage players? It also needs to put a clear policy in place for coaches.
It’s about Limerick, pure and simple and not about individuals.