Keeping drop-outs on side can take hurling to new heights
Development squads are before my time, or at least weren't labelled as that when I was coming up through the ranks, so it has always been with a degree of suspicion that I have looked in from the outside. Sure you'd have to be suspicious of something you know nothing about.
But they've worked for other counties, and we're beginning to see the fruits this year in Wexford of a process that begun almost ten years ago. It brings the lads together earlier. They get gear and an identity is born. There's freedom to work outside of the glare of competitive championship on aspects of the game that competition often disallows.
They can be prone to amateur psychology sessions and misguided fitness regimes, insofar as we're constantly developing at senior level and something that was the Holy Grail one year is null and void the next. Trying to find that balance, coupled with a wide-ranging physical and emotional development, is no mean feat. But I'm onside.
However, a worrying trend is consistent in stories of development squads across the country. We're preparing now for the biggest week in the hurling calendar. The build-up to our centrepiece.
A game that will inspire kids to persevere and parents to encourage. The social currency is clear. And there's little doubt that development squads serve, for a 15-year-old, the best possible opportunity to reach the promised land some day.
A pressure builds within our young players to 'make it'. Get the gear. Caress the ego. Survive the cut. The natural way of competitive sport. But what seems to be happening is selectors, though outwardly unaware, trade on that social currency, and idle threats about making the panel are bandied about all too carelessly.
Uncompromising adults have our best youngsters on the go every night. And we wonder why we've such a high drop-out rate. Is it based on a genuine desire to create the space for young players to find their flow? Or out of a need to fill the hole left by an unsatisfied desire to be something different themselves?
Unfortunately, they seem to be following the senior grade, where the once-sacrosanct phrase 'club before county' exists, in all reality, to satisfy the crowd. It's not 'Cuir brú ar an óige agus tiocfaidh sí' for a reason.