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Report worthy of second glance

Kevin McStay
Mayo’s Keith Higgins
BACK TO THE FUTURE Mayo’s Keith Higgins, who was the Cadbury Hero of the Future 2006, and Kildare’s Dermot Earley, who is one of the Cadbury Hero of the Future judges, at the launch of the 2007 Cadbury U-21 FC at Croke Park on Monday.  Pic: Sportsfile

Report worthy of second glance

Kevin McStayKevin McStay

EVERY business needs a time to pause, to reflect and to chart the way ahead. Every morning of the week the radio calls out the end of year returns for the big corporates, their expectations ‘going forward’ and as Enron proved to us all, you have to wonder about the detail. And though we know the devil is always in the detail, we don’t bother because it really does not interest us.
The same reports come from our clubs, our counties and of course our province. And around Easter every year the GAA has the annual Congress. We don’t bother too much with any of them simply because we are only interested in the games; playing them, managing the teams, watching as supporters or commenting on them.
Yet the reports of the four provincial secretaries (Leinster and Connacht in particular) are consistently worth reading if only for the realistic tone, the urgent appeal or the poorly hidden snipe! ‘Tuarisc an Runai 2006’ is such a document and in it John Prenty patiently reviews the year and correctly flags the problems ahead.
Last year was a tremendously successful one on the fields of play and many important events took place off them too. You might think the playing successes happened in a vacuum and sometimes I think this myself. When I look around at club life in Roscommon and the neighbouring counties I very often despair but perhaps I am being unduly critical.
Readers will recall I numbered the serious clubs of the province at no more than a handful at most and this from a club total that must be around the 200 mark. Yet, Connacht football teams contested every All Ireland final on offer this past year.
From junior on up to Intermediate and senior the clubs togged big and the inter-county scene was no less vibrant and energised; Mayo at under 21, Ros’ at minor and Mayo again at Masters grade.
A few paragraphs remind me how fast the years fly by. The Ted Webb Cup celebrated its 30th anniversary, I played in the second tournament. And Connacht, despite some serious efforts these past few years, have still not won the inter-provincial championship since 1969.
And a note from the secretary to highlight the unpredictable nature of sport: the minor championship will be played using a round-robin format this year; Mayo and Galway as the dominant teams get byes to the semi-finals to be joined by two of Ros’, Sligo and Leitrim.
Roscommon fought hard for this innovation, so that they might improve their competitiveness. What happens? The new championship starts with Roscommon proudly positioned as champions of the whole island; it should be a competitive arena all right!
But the real meat in this report comes at the end when John Prenty addresses some of the most important issues facing the province. He illuminates some of the trickier aspects of the new disciplinary code but asks a question many already know the answer to: ‘Will our disciplinary procedures be credible if our players and officials continue to show a lack of respect for match officials and ambivalence to foul play?’
The proliferation of games for elite players is, he states, the ‘root cause of the drought of club games’. True, so true, but despite the flying of recent kites by HQ, nobody appears to have the strong leadership required to just call halt. There is an urgent need to change the minor grade to under 19 or under 20 and get rid of the under 21 championships.
It simply has to be done to alleviate burnout, educational demands at critical times in their young lives and allow the club player get on with playing club games.
The playing of the junior and intermediate championships to All-Ireland level is not a bad idea in my opinion but that may be coloured by the weekend hype of the finals under lights in Croke Park.
The way ahead or ‘The Coming Years’ as the secretary calls them, need a strategic overview and a 10-15 year plan. The following get his attention:
• Need to build a provincial Centre of Excellence with all the modern facilities such an academy demands.
• The appointment of a club development officer at provincial level to bring together all the strands of modern club demands.
• Flood light facilities for club games.
• Improvement of county training grounds.
The council remain positive that the years ahead will see more growth and a strong association. Despite scarce resources the officers are a proven unit when it comes to getting the job done and as ever the immediate year of 2007 promises much for all.

National League is serious business
WE will stay with the big picture for the moment and park the Mayo win against Fermanagh on Sunday. With all teams turning the corner for home (four played and only three left down for decision) a bit of context is needed. Like, does this league gig count for much or as Roy Keane might or might not say: ‘At the end of the day winning games is everything’.
Once upon a time, when Kerry and Dublin ruled the GAA world (a world we occupied as players showing yet again our dreadful timing in matters of such importance) nobody gave a fiddler’s for the league. I recall getting to a league semi-final in 1986 where we lost to Monaghan who subsequently lost to Laois! By the time summer came along all was well with the world and Kerry had completed the three-in-a-row again with the same team.
Those days of complete apathy for the NFL are gone and over the past decade I cannot recall any team coming from nowhere in the league and mounting a winning assault on the championship. The record books indicate we have had five double winners in that period (Spring league and September championship). Only last year Kerry did a reprise of their 2004 performance (winning the double) by taking out Galway and Mayo respectively in the two big finals of 2006.
So, I guess we have established the trend and with the current league flagged as the standard measure for the next ten years of spring activity, it is important where you finish out in April of this year. The difference between Division 1 and Division 3 or 4 football is so vast as to allow you immediately rule out a Sam Maguire winner from the lower strata.
Don’t believe for a moment some of the BS the losing/struggling team managers spoof after another defeat in the 2007 league. Some talked of the league as a trial period for their panel, a series of games to improve conditioning and team building.
Will ya get up the yard! Anybody who has ever involved themselves with team games will know that winning games builds confidence and belief and these two ingredients often allow players become better than they actually are. Try explaining a losing league to your squad (say one from seven) and expect them to feel all is under control. Don’t think so.
Every team wants the big games in April to check if fitness, tactics and morale are up to the pressures of the pending summer championship. And to check if confidence and self/team belief is not paper thin, waiting to implode on the first day of real pressure. The semi-finals and final of the NFL are the closest any county will get to the real thing of summer. Why would you pass it up?