Sport Gaelic Football

Saturday 25 February 2017

Boosting standard of coaching key to Deise's football dreams -- Kiely

Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

THE state of Waterford hurling is the subject of keen debate within the Deise county and beyond -- but what about Waterford football?

Amid all the laments and analysis of Tipperary's hammering of the Waterford hurlers, the footballers quietly prepare for tonight's qualifier clash with Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds without any fanfare.

The contest is sure to be hard fought and intense between two teams who have met four times in league and championship over the last 18 months.

Beyond that, does anyone care if football in Waterford grows and develops or stays as the lesser game within the hurling-dominated Decies?

One man with a passion for the big-ball game in the county is the irrepressible John 'Jackson' Kiely, the man who managed Waterford's footballers for five years up to the end of 2009.

Kiely, who got his nickname because of his admiration for US Civil War general 'Stonewall' Jackson, managed Waterford to their first Junior All-Ireland title in 1999 and brought the seniors their first championship victory in 19 years in 2007.

Kiely suggests there is good news and bad news on the subject of football's future in his native county.

The good news is that he believes there is potential to grow the game, and the bad news is that it can only happen with a long-term plan and sustained investment.

If that doesn't happen, the county team will continue to bounce between Division 3 and Division 4 and struggle for any kind of championship run.

Remember, Waterford's victory over London last weekend was their first ever win in the qualifier series.

The problems of sustaining football to a decent competitive level, particularly in the Munster counties such as Clare, Limerick, Waterford and Tipperary where hurling commands the glamour and the attention, were highlighted by both Limerick and Waterford being relegated from Division 3 of the Allianz National League this year.

Kiely can only wonder what might happen if the Waterford football scene received the same investment and development ethos that has raised the standards and the profile of the Dublin hurlers.

However, he doesn't consider that money alone is the answer. "Coach the coaches" and work from the grassroots up to hone the skills of football among the young is the long-term answer, in his view.

"The bottom line is we have two totally different games in hurling and football and I don't think there's another county that has such a big proportion of hurling clubs to football or so many dual players," he says.

"The only people who can really make a difference in Waterford football are the so-called big football clubs.

"Until such time as the senior football clubs in Waterford have a meeting and say 'right, we are serious' or if a separate football board is formed, nothing is going to change. What we have now in the GAA here is the same people running the two games, and inevitably at some point that leads to strife."

Ask Kiely what he would do if given a blank cheque and told "make Waterford a football power" he answers: "Coaching is the big one."

"If you were to put money into football in Waterford, I'd say 'put it into coaches', where you could have somebody like Tony Scullion from Derry or Donie Buckley from Kerry, two of the most wonderful football coaches in Ireland, to coach the coaches.

"If you had somebody like that to coach, say, five or 10 guys from Waterford and 10 guys from Clare and next year, another 10, then maybe in five years' time you'd have 30 guys in Waterford and 30 guys in Clare who were really top-class coaches.

"And that would pay off, because at the end of the day, somebody has to show youngsters the proper way to play Gaelic football.

"Now, there are loads of wonderful people involved in clubs. I'm not knocking them. Wonderful people, but you can give guys bad habits.

"There are a lot of people involved in this because their kids are involved and they're picking teams and they're in it for -- I don't know could you call it the wrong reason -- but have they a real passion for Gaelic football or are they involved just because of the kids?"

Above all, Kiely appreciates that recruits are needed to take on a new vision for football in the Decies.

"You have to have a cause, and you have to believe in the cause, and you couldn't have a bigger cause than Gaelic football in the middle of a county like Waterford," he says.

As for the match with Limerick, 'Jackson' is optimistic: "I think Limerick have slipped a good bit from last year and while Waterford have lost a few players, I really feel there'll be just a kick of a ball between the two sides.

"If the Waterford management team put the two Gorman brothers (Maurice and Tomas) on Limerick's two most dangerous attackers -- Ger Collins and Ian Ryan -- and if you could play a guy like Brian Wall as sweeper, I'd have no doubt Waterford can beat Limerick."

Irish Independent

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