'The competitive edge should be held back' - Kieran Donaghy calls for pressure to be lifted from underage players
Kieran Donaghy believes changes could be made to the junior GAA coaching set-up to encourage kids to play the game without pressure.
In an interview with the Sunday World magazine, the former Kerry hero and Sky Sports pundit spoke passionately about the GAA's Super Games Centres, an initiative that puts the emphasis on fun and participation over competition to encourage junior players to stay playing the game.
To address the fall-off rates in the number of kids paying the game, the GAA set up Super Games Centres in 2013 and for the last two years Sky Sports has partnered with the GAA to not only provide equipment and ambassador visits, but more importantly to raise awareness of the initiative and help increase the numbers of teenagers participating.
As part of Sky Sports' Wednesday night Championship review show, Donaghy has traveled to a number of Super Games Centres up and down the country, including Carlow, Belfast in Waterford.
On his travels he speaks to former players and coaches, Jamesie O’Connor and Derek McGrath as well as parents and players about their thoughts on the Super Games Centres and the role each of us have in keeping our games alive. Donaghy hopes his journey can shed light on this major GAA grass roots initiative.
"I think kids and teenagers relate way more to someone like me telling them what to do compared to parents and coaches," Donaghy told the Sunday World.
"Sky sent me around the entire country for this and it was amazing to see so many boys and girls getting involved. But there is still a huge problem here and I think we have to rethink how we coach young GAA teams.
"I think the competitive edge should be held back until young players are 15 or 16. Up until then I think the GAA should follow some of the rugby models that force coaches to play every single player during the games. And rules are allowed to be changed between games. I was in Carlow for Sky last week and we straight-up asked them what rules they wanted to implement.
"The girls said they wanted to pick up the ball like the boys, so we did it. Someone else said they wanted to do more solos. So we made that change for the game too. Everyone loved playing to their own rules and they all left the pitch smiling. No one cared about the score.
"Unfortunately I think some coaches and parents take it too seriously. They live vicariously through their kids. They are taking their failed careers out on them and it's not helping. It is forcing kids away from the game."
Donaghy went on to reflect on his career, that included four All-Ireland senior football titles and three All Star Awards.
"I never for a second expected to achieve what I did," he added. "I used to dream about playing for Kerry but that was as far as my dream went. I never thought about multiple All- Irelands, All-Stars, ten years at the top and captaining the county.
"There is something very special about being a successful Kerry footballer. We have a rich history and I was so lucky to be part of a wave of players that achieved so much; Colm Cooper, Paul Galvin, the O'Sé brothers. I was very lucky.
"The Dubs are going through one of those waves at the moment. I had it back then, so I know what they are going through. I never got close to five in a row obviously, but I think they will do it in September.
"Kerry has amazing fans. I'm a big lump of a fella so I get recognised a lot. I'll always have time for supporters, even when we lost and they want to tell us what they think of us.
"I worked in a bar for four years so I have taken a lot of shit from people. I have a thick skin. Even on the pitch I would get targeted for lots of sledging. Sometimes it went a bit far, but I was definitely able to dish it out too."
Kieran’s journey can be seen in Sky’s weekly GAA highlights show ‘The Championship Review’ on Sky Sports Arena from Wednesday 19th June. For more information on the GAA Super Games visit www.gaa.ie/supergamescentres