The Academy: six months on
Billy McNicholas talks about the early stages of the Mayo Senior Development Academy
NOT only are the Mayo senior footballers of the future going to be bigger, faster, stronger and more skilful, but they will also be well-educated and domesticated if the Mayo GAA Development Academy organisers have their way.
Six months on from the launch of the pioneering four-year programme, which aims to provide a ‘progression path’ for footballers between the ages of 19 and 23 to graduate from the Mayo Minor squad to the U-21 ranks and through to the county senior panel, it would seem that much has been done.
Under the watchful eye of Mayo Games Manager Billy McNicholas, and mentors Noel Connelly and Michael Gavin, who is now ‘heading up’ the Academy, 24 aspiring young Mayo senior footballers have been put through their paces, on and off the field, in recent months.
The teenagers have been medically and physically assessed, gone through some skills testing, attended a college education night, and will be taking part in a cookery class in the weeks ahead.
“It’s gone very well,” Billy McNicholas told The Mayo News. “We invited 27 players in total to join the Academy and 24 of the lads accepted the invitation.
“First off, Martin McIntyre, who’s been an integral part of the operation, screened each of the players and assessed them in terms of their speed, strength, endurance, flexibility and movement.
“Each player was scrutinised and recorded so that we could see exactly where they were at, and then each of them were given an individual programme to work on.
“Their flexibility, movement and conditioning. were our priorities initially.
“All the players were brought in for skill assessment programmes and we designed training sessions around the areas that we felt needed improvement.”
“The majority of the lads are doing their Leaving Certs in June and aim to go to college so we had a college education night recently,” he continued.
“We invited all the players and their parents along, invited all the third-level colleges in Connacht, and gave the lads a full rundown on college courses, points required, grants available and any other assistance they may need. We got a great reaction to that, especially from parents.”
McNicholas is also expecting plenty of positive feedback from mums, dads, girlfriends and family members in relation to the next part of the Mayo GAA Academy plan of action.
“The next thing we’ve got planned is a cookery class training day,” he smiled.
“We’ve invited the Mayo senior team dietician, Ruth Kilcawley, along and she will talk to the lads about what foods they should be getting in on a regular basis.
“We’ll be giving lads a shopping list of what they should be looking to pick up when they move out of home and are away in college or at work.
“The Mayo team chef, Seán Julian, will also be giving the lads a cooking demonstration at McHale Park, showing them how to cook the food that Ruth recommends.”
The Academy footballers will be released back to their clubs for the duration of the county championships this summer before returning for an assessment. At that stage there are plans to ‘trim’ the group depending on “how they perform across a range of areas” according to Billy McNicholas.
Overall, the Swinford-based coach is pleased with how the first phase of this programme has progressed. However, he is keen to see some new mentors join the Academy and knows that the hard work is yet to begin for the key players in this initiative, the footballers themselves.
“The County Board need to get people on board,” he said. “There is a lot of work to be done but Michael [Gavin] and Noel [Connelly] have been fantastic, coaching and mentoring the lads.
“We’re feeling our way along. It’s a new initiative, but we’re using the templates that have worked well for us with other squads. Before this, when lads came out of the minor ranks they were forgotten. Now they’re being tracked, contacted regularly and watched in club games.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the commitment of the lads,” he added. “There is no carrot of games at the end of this process, like there might be with other squads. But we’re constantly reminding the guys that they are the potential U-21s of three years’ time.”
The journey has started, the destination remains unknown.
The Academy: six months on