At half time in the 2002 #Meath Minor football final (three days before Christmas) Tommy O’Connor made an impassioned rallying cry to his colleagues in the middle of the pitch in Walterstown: “Lads, we’ve been together since we were 12, but everything has been building towards this day”… I was honoured and privileged to be a mentor with the particular team, having somewhat belatedly joined up with PJ Conway, Sean Whyte, Kieran Clince and John McGarrell who had been looking after those lads since they came together. And together they had annexed bountiful success, capturing county titles at U-14, U-15 and U-16.
Clichés are often viewed with abhorrence within writing – and occasionally with good reason – but, after Wolfe Tones were duly navigated to land the Delaney Cup for the first time in Dunboyne’s history, it was very much a case of success breeding success. So much so that when the club won their second Meath SFC in 2005, 11 of that victorious team picked up Keegan Cup medals.
So it has followed, also, that several members of the U-18 group who again reigned in the county last winter have made the transition to adult fare. What all of the above highlights is the value of continuity and it’s with that in mind that one is cautiously optimistic regarding the proposals presented to delegates recently by the Steering Group – comprising Sean Boylan, Minor Chairman John Kavanagh and former Meath stars Seamus Kenny and Gerry McEntee and Colm O’Rourke.
Now, in one way, going by what’s been broadly outlined from within them, they may represent putting infrastructure in place that has been in situ in other places for a long time. Even so, they surely represent positive steps, but they must be part of a much longer journey. Sean is of course correct in his observation that “We have no Divine right to be at the top” but gut feeling remains that our teams remain capable of commanding a more prominent rank within the echelons of football than is possibly currently the case.
So what does it all entail? Well, without intending to seem negative, some thereof – specifically the measures pertaining to the placement of a strength and conditioning coach to work with teams at all levels and an emphasis on development squads – represents playing catch up to a degree, comparative to the level other teams have been at for some time.
However, where most positivity abounds regarding the mooted initiatives may be in appointing the county U-16 manager for two seasons and that individual automatically taking on the Minors thereafter. Likewise, granting whoever happens to be in charge of the U-21 two terms is only common sense.
If there was one facet of the ideas put forward which necessitated a modicum of curiosity or indeed disappointment in what was pitched at the recent meeting, it was the intention to confine selection of the county Junior team to players under the age of 23. Apart from the fact that it would preclude a sizable quantity of players from representing the county who would not otherwise have such an opportunity, does it not, in a way, hinder the competitiveness of the team in question? That can hardly be good.
I’m always a shade sceptical about committees or working groups or whatever title they take on. They’ve a propensity to become little more than talking shops and their findings little more than dust catchers. That said, given the makeup of this particular ensemble – allied to an appetite for improvement within the county – instinct is to feel that these particular plans may lead to some tangible progress.
It would appear that, by instigating the moves relating to the U-16 and Minor teams, there has at least been an acknowledgement that some degree of continuity is essential to the prosperity of teams going forward. For that very reason, though, if there was one disappointment emanating from what has thus far been disclosed, it’s that additional stipulations weren’t drafted, mandating the possible inclusion of former minor mentors with the U-21 setup and, as a direct consequence, the opportunity to make the inclusion of some of those involved with the latter within senior team management standard practise.
Still, at least the first steps have been taken which will at least got peoples attention, got them talking and stimulated debate. Talk can only do so much however, now it’s time for decisive action.