Eoin Liston: Time for GAA to really act in order to secure the future of football
IN THE last fortnight or so we've seen Waterford, Carlow and Westmeath all lose their senior football managers.
Various factors attributes to them leaving, but one thing is applicable to all three cases and it's the type of season each county had. None of the three could build any sort of real momentum.
The blame for this can't simply be levelled at men like Niall Carew, Paul Bealin or Anthony Rainbow. These are all genuine football men, who would have poured their heart and souls into their respective jobs. But the hard truth for these three, is the ability to even compete at a decent level is becoming more and more difficult. Some would say, with the current structures in place, it has become impossible.
Carew hit the nail on the head in his statement this past week when he said Waterford football was "swimming against the tide". He cited how the underage preparation was just not up to scratch which ultimately led to a "severe handicap when they become senior players".
I think it's lazy analysis to point fingers and say things like "sure how can we compete with Dublin and all their money?" Of course the Dubs are at a huge advantage but they also get the absolute optimum out of their resources. It's not realistic for every team to be aiming for All-Irelands and that's just the nature of sport.
Why, though, should a county not be getting the absolute best from the hand they are dealt? The GAA is now a commercial machine generating massive amounts of revenue. It does get streamed down through the association, but seeing how it's used is key. I've no doubt that there are brilliant coaches in every county. Are their skills used in the best possible manner?
Does every county board look at their funding and ensure that it is spent with a view on the long term? I don't think so. Chairmen have a relatively short stint at the helm, so they try and get instant success by, for example, bringing in big names to manage the senior county sides. It leads to underage structures being neglected. Gaelic football has reached a cross roads and a change of mindset is needed. The push for the change must come from Croke Park.
Of course everyone needs to get their own house in order first, but why not assist in the process?
In counties like Dublin and Kerry, a player in an under-13 development squad knows from his first training session that it is special to wear the county jersey. Do the young fellas from the Carlow and the Waterford get that same buzz? When they do get to play for their county teams, are they treated correctly to ensure they will want to come back the following year?
Clare made huge strides forward this year and fair play to them. However, Westmeath did likewise and were playing in Division 1 only last year. Look at how far they've fallen. We must work out how to help sustain such progress.
What I believe the GAA can do is to investigate each county on an individual basis and get to the root of the problems. Then a template could be drawn up, with short term goals clearly laid out all with the aim of building towards a solid future.
A type of audit would be in place, where a county's progress would be recorded every season. If criteria set out were not met, the funding and where it's going would be reviewed once more. There are of course Games Promotion Officers employed in every county. However, I believe that they should be responsible for implementing the plan laid out and answerable to Croke Park and not just the county boards.
Very few teams can call upon the scientific expertise of the likes of Dublin, but why could the GAA not employ people with similar skills on a full-time basis and get them visiting underage training sessions?
And just as vitally, the GPA could become involved. They could help with gaining access to top-level names, GAA celebrities if you like.
Another thing that must be looked at is very simple. How many meaningful inter-county games are fellas getting before they reach minor? Why not run off a champions league style national competition at under-16 level, where each team is guaranteed eight games a year? Again, it sets out early the standards required to compete at the highest level.
The problems facing probably 80pc of counties won't be solved over night. But if we are to keep our game truly competitive, the GAA must ensure that every single thing possible is done. The fruits of the labour might not be seen for a decade, but the future will shine much brighter.