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Mayo GAA Academy gets up and running

Academy gets up and running

Mayo GAA launch development programme for 19 year-old footballers

Mike Finnerty

MAYO manager James Horan has hailed the new Mayo Senior Football Development Academy as a “fantastic initiative” that “should have happened 15 or 20 years ago”.
Speaking at the long-awaited launch of the Academy at McHale Park, Castlebar recently, the Mayo senior boss also issued a challenge to the teenagers that have been selected to take part in year one of the four-year programme.
“We’re constantly scouring the county looking for new talent and new players, whatever age, as long as you’ve got football ability and the right character,” he said.
“This Academy will give you the resources that you need as players to develop. The coaches all have a huge amount of experience and talent but, ultimately, it’s up to ye guys to make the most of it. The players always have to drive it.
“Over the last few years there haven’t been enough young guys and U-21s coming through to the senior team. But with the right attitude and hard work, I’m looking forward to working with some of ye.”
Under the guidance of Academy ‘mentors’ and coaches, Noel Connelly, Kieran Gallagher, Michael Gavin and Stephen Rochford, 24 footballers that will be 19 years-old next year have been invited to take part in the Development Academy initiative.
The aim of the project is to provide a ‘progression path’ for the players 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.
The Academy will attempt to achieve this by working regularly with the young footballers in the areas of specialised football coaching, strength and conditioning, nutrition, education, psychology and networking.
Addressing the players that were selected, many of whom were accompanied by their parents, Stephen Rochford called on the Academy footballers to take the initiative “into their hearts and minds” and reminded them of the “massive opportunity” they were being given.
“The aim of the Academy is to allow you to become the best you can be,” said the former Mayo Minor footballer and selector from Crossmolina.
“Ye guys are going to be asked to show if ye really want to become the next Aidan O’Shea or Cillian O’Connor or Alan Dillon.
“This is a great time to be involved with Mayo and this programme is coming at just the right time. Ye guys have got a great opportunity to be part of that.”
The Mayo Development Academy was launched as part of the Mayo GAA Board’s Strategic Vision & Action Plan 2012-2017 after initially being proposed by a Strategic Review sub-committee in February 2011.
When drawing up the Academy programme, the ‘mentors’ carried out an extensive research of best practice in a diverse range of elite sports such as professional rugby, Australian Rules Football and similar GAA programmes in other counties.
Billy McNicholas (Mayo Games Manager) and John Tobin (Games Manager, Connacht GAA Council) also played key roles in the establishment of the programme.
The Academy begins this month with a skills assessment of all the players, while their medical and physical condition will also be evaluated.
Individual programmes will then be assigned to each of the footballers and they will be in regular contact with the mentors until the end of the year.
In the first four months of 2013, a full assessment of their progress will be carried out as well as the commencement of pitch coaching sessions, workshop days (once every six weeks) and the visit of a number of guest speakers to the Academy.
All players will then be assessed and a decision will be taken by the mentors about their suitability to progress to year two.
The 2011 Young Footballer of the Year, Cillian O’Connor, was also among the speakers at the Academy launch and he was anxious to remind the aspiring Mayo senior footballers of their responsibilities.
“From the Minor team that I played on in 2010, and also the Minor teams that got to the All-Ireland Finals in 2008 and 2009, there are a lot of those fellas that have fallen off the radar a small bit,” said the 20 year-old student from Ballintubber. “Partly down to themselves and maybe partly down to the lack of something like this.
“But I would say, if you’re coming into this and just turning up, just clocking in, if you’re not living it away from McHale Park, in terms of your diet and sleeping patterns and everything that goes with it, then your rate of improvement is going to be far slower than it needs to be. It really is a lifestyle thing.
“And as far away as playing senior for Mayo might seem, it’s only around the corner if you want it to be,” he added.
“I’ve seen better players than me fade away because they didn’t have the commitment. When you train you have to do everything to a high performance, and the same goes for outside of football.”

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