Could group teams improve Wicklow?
Almost a year ago I published a piece titled 'Behind The Times'.
Within this article I argued that there were a number of issued that needed to be addressed in order to compete in Gaelic Football at Intercounty level over the compete at Gaelic football at inter county level over the coming decades. I wonder how many Wicklow Gaels in fact read or acted on the concerns raised and potential solutions I suggested?
The embarrassing score line from Armagh was on the cards for some time and something I predicted. Frankly speaking there are serious issues that need addressing however the potential outcomes from any process review could be a 10 or 20 year lead time and whether there exists the vision, leadership, finance or raw materials in this county is sadly, highly questionable.
The message that I would like to convey today is around an immediate improvement that can be implemented next year and focuses on positivity, idea/solution generation and stoking the flames of debate internally for both club and county.
Winds of change
The general standard of footballer produced in this county over the past seven years has without any doubt in my mind reduced significantly.
To address this issue I suggested in the Wicklow GAA magazine some years ago was to create a number of group teams.
The committees of Coolkenno and Shillelagh (St Mary's) made such a plan a reality and now they have their Senior medals, medals once thought of as unattainable.
Thankfully Aughrim, Knockananna and Ballymanus (Shamrocks) have taken a similar route. It's time for other clubs and district areas to follow suit.
When you have a group of good players together as Shamrocks have done, standards will inadvertently increase. Good players will learn from good players, up their game, increase their personal commitment and training in order to make the first 15, a natural human response when a player is outside his comfort zone.
Getting the most talented 17/18 and 19-year-olds onto these group squads should be a priority for each of these clubs; this will benefit both the individual club, the group club and ultimately the county in the future.
I have played against all of the above mentioned clubs over the past number of years and each club team possesses some very committed and talented players, approximately four or five very good players in each team and when combined, the dynamic mix should create a very strong team and proposition for any opposition.
However, I am lead to believe that the Shamrock's amalgamation was initiated by a number of Senior players and not by the committees of each club.
Every initiative must contain leadership and commitment from controlling management in order to have a relative chance of success or progress.
If that buy-in from committees was present I could see Shamrock's beating Rathnew or running them very close in the championship this year, however without that committee level commitment and leadership a heavy and unorganised defeat is on the cards.
The St Mary's team that won the Senior championship a couple of years ago had committee level buy-in and a strong presence on the line in Karl O'Dwyer, it also coincided with two decent Shillelagh and Coolkenno teams entering their twilight.
Rumour has it that the St Mary's experiment is likely to disband at the end of this year which in my opinion is a serious mistake.
However, a modern blueprint for a successful group team in Wicklow has been produced and should be replicated throughout the county. Leadership, communication, strong management team and buy-in from players and committee are a prerequisite for success.
Many small clubs have lost players to emigration and are also losing players to other larger Senior clubs, Senior clubs who have bigger squads (better training sessions), are better organised as they believe they have a decent prospect of winning and also provide the highest standard of club football for their ambitious players.
My own club Kilbride have lost a number of players to this 'ambition', it's difficult to argue against a player who wants to explore his ability as much as possible, it's up to the club committee to counteract and respond.
I know of a number of clubs who have lost some of their better players to Senior clubs in Dublin and Wicklow such as Ashford, Valleymount, Newcastle, Kilbride, Stratford-Grangecon, etc.
The days of club loyalty and values within our current generation have become diluted and are influenced by other distractions.
One player that left a club some years ago told me 'he wanted to meet his ambition'; it was as if he had just had an appointment with his GAA Career Coach!
My advice to any young talented player is to stay loyal and be somebody in your own club, most players that leave their maternal club become 'nobodies' in a bigger club, they may have the talent but not the connection to their new cause.
However, Junior and Intermediate committees all over Wicklow must react and provide a platform for talented and ambitious players to perform at the highest level, otherwise these clubs will continue to haemorrhage their more talented players.
And if one goes, more will follow. The reality is, the make up of young modern players has moved on, like our society in some ways, driven by short-termism, not the pure GAA ethics and values of old.
Players from the aforementioned five clubs have perhaps inadvertently created a perfect environment to cater for the 'ambitious' club player, commitment, good management and training, high standard, good numbers at training, realistic chance of competition, etc.
Conversely, by Shamrocks and St Mary's entering the Senior fray, it has effected the prospects of smaller Senior teams such as Hollywood, Stratford/Grangecon, Tinahely or Annacurra. What chance would these clubs have against three clubs (Shamrocks), not to mention having a chance against some of the larger Senior clubs such as Baltinglass?
It's time for some so called Senior clubs in Wicklow to take a reality check and regrade to Intermediate and then enter the Senior championship with a group team.
If Coolkenno and Shillelagh (St Mary's) can do it, why not Shamrocks or maybe Western Gaels? A successful template is there to replicate with Mary's.
West Wicklow for example
Taking my own region of west Wicklow as an example. The hurling club Western Gales is composed of a number of players from clubs in the north West. Can a number of Junior/Intermediate clubs form a Senior football club, perhaps made up of Kilbride/Lacken/Valleymount and Hollywood or Dunlavin? Should Dunlavin and Donard enter a team in the Senior championship, could Stratford-Grangecon be involved with Dunlavin or Donard?
One thing is certain, the smaller clubs and weaker Senior clubs will continue to lose players to bigger Senior clubs unless committees provide a platform for competitive Senior football.
They have to match players ambitions. Smaller Senior clubs must regrade and take a serious reflective reality check – most haven't a 'hope' of beating or getting close to the current Senior champions St. Pat's.
Apparently there are 18 Senior football clubs in Wicklow. You wouldn't think watching the scoreboard in Armagh last week.
I also believe a culture of group teams throughout the county will also facilitate an U-20s championship which is also required, another subject of concern which has been ignored by clubs and county board.
To summarise, our clubs can immediately help the county football team, communicate with their neighbour clubs and create a number of group Senior teams to follow on from the St Mary's template.
Each group club should include a number of talented teenagers from each club to facilitate their individual progress and maybe create an overflow for future county teams.
The group option is an immediate requirement if smaller clubs want to hold onto their talent, the time for committee talk and planning for 2014 is now.
The County Board must encourage teams to regrade and establish lines of communication between clubs now.