The GAA has spent many millions on coaching, from young children to adult level, over the past 40-plus years, with each provincial council and the central authority in Croke Park devoting more money to coaching than anything, other than the construction of facilities. It is often asked whether this represents good value for money from the point of view of the GAA and the wider Irish society.
Well now, for the first time, that question can be definitively answered following a decision by the Munster Council this year to commission an independent market research group, Focus Consulting, to undertake an analysis on the return on their coaching investment across the province.
The review process focused on current coaching investment across schools, clubs, coach education and additional Munster Council games development initiatives. The results were very interesting.
There are now 58,000 underage players in Munster coached by 10,537 mentors/coaches. In 2011, the Munster Council spent €1.64m on coaching and it is estimated the return on that investment was in the region of €20m.
If any State or semi-State institution were to produce financial returns of that order then this country could soon wave goodbye to Mr Chopra and his friends in the IMF. Every euro spent on coaching generates about €12.
The amount of recreational activity generated by Munster coaching schemes is staggering. In the playing season over 2,400 coaching sessions are held weekly across the six counties involving around 3,183 hours of training and it would take 83 additional full-time coaches to produce that if the volunteer coaches were not doing this work.
Obviously, the quality of coaching, even for young players aged eight to 14, is very important because bad coaching is worse than no coaching. In Munster, no less than 10,729 have completed some level of coaching education which ensures that they know what they are talking about when dealing with those youngsters.
Schools coaching represents a critical part of GAA life and GAA activity in schools accounts for 46,000 hours of physical education, which is the equivalent of employing an extra 62 PE teachers to deliver that amount of exercise output. This sort of fact puts into perspective the crucial role the GAA provides for the general welfare of young people in this country, as it often means that if the children were not involved in GAA activity they would be doing little or no exercise. The decline in this sort of activity is already a major cause of concern for Department of Health experts, particularly in relation to youth obesity.
When parents were surveyed as to what they valued most from their GAA involvement they stated that it was primarily the health benefits and social skills development. Anybody involved in sport of any kind would readily agree with that conclusion.
One of the biggest changes in underage development in the GAA has been the scarcity of male teachers in national schools who traditionally would initiate and coach youngsters into football or hurling and instil in them a love of the game.
This posed a serious problem for the GAA nationally also but in recent years more and more clubs have taken on the schoolmaster's role by having their members provide coaching in their local national school. In Munster there are nearly 300 clubs providing this service.
Of course not everything in this survey is good news and over one third of Munster clubs have reported a decline in numbers in recent years. Of these, a 43pc dropout in youngsters aged eight to 18 is a worrying development. Indeed this is not just confined to Munster but is nationwide, especially in urban areas.
In general, however, this survey shows just how important the GAA is in Irish life and the power of GAA volunteers to make a major positive input into the lives of young people while promoting hurling and football at the same time.
Football a poorer place without two ‘perfect 11s’
BY a strange coincidence, two of the best centre-forwards we have seen in football in the past decade or more departed the scene last week.
Padraic Joyce and Brian McGuigan were what has now become a rare commodity: footballers who excelled in the No 11 jersey, for Tyrone and Galway over the years.
Between them they won five All-Ireland medals, but it was their innate skills in playing what used to be the specialist centre-forward role that they will be best remembered for.
All through the years, Gaelic football has regarded centre-forwards as pivotal players on the great teams of the last century.
I'm thinking of men like Mick Higgins (Cavan), Padraig Carney (Mayo), James McCartan (Down), Ollie Freaney (Dublin), Mattie McDonagh (Galway), Tony Hanahoe (Dublin), Ogie Moran (Kerry) and the greatest No 11 of them all, Sean Purcell (Galway).
When football teams were a lot more regimented than they are now as regards team formations, centre-forwards like those and others were often the fulcrum of the side's attacking machine.
Incidentally, Moran has a remarkable record among centre-forwards. He played in that position in eight All-Ireland finals, and Kerry won them all.
He played in two other finals, 1976 and 1982, but not in the No 11 shirt, and each time Kerry did not win.
What seems to be the disappearance of specialist centre-forwards will be regretted by many football followers, but at least we can remember with pride two of the best of them in Joyce and McGuigan.
Carlow left counting cost of Murphy injury
We hear a lot in all sports about injuries, usually in relation to star players.
But the loss of a top player to injury in a smaller county is significantly more costly than it would be to one of the top-tier teams, who have plenty of strength in depth.
Brendan Murphy is an outstanding footballer by any standard – and his role in the Carlow football team is absolutely critical. Former Kildare player Anthony Rainbow has just taken over as Carlow manager and he must be very disappointed to hear that Murphy – who in my opinion was worth an All Star in 2011 – suffered a serious injury while on duty with the Defence Forces and could miss most of the National League.
A major blow to Carlow's promotion hopes in Division 4.