McCaffrey a beacon of capital revolution
Dublin hurling captain believes boys in blue now reaping rewards of Kelleher's masterplan
DUBLIN hurling captain Johnny McCaffrey is a product of the Dublin GAA revolution and now he's helping to develop the skills of the next generation.
McCaffrey was a youngster when the overhaul of coaching structures via the 'Blueprint for development of Gaelic games in Dublin' was launched.
One of the goals was to bring hurling to the fore, and it has worked steadily over the last decade. McCaffrey is a prime example of the success of the scheme. His Dublin GAA involvement operates on a dual basis: first, in his work as a games promotion officer, and also as a player with the county hurlers.
McCaffrey's progress through the ranks parallels the rise in standards, particularly of hurling, in Dublin.
"I would have come on to hurling development squads in 2001. Our minor year was 2005 and we won a Leinster championship that year," said McCaffrey. "A lot of us would have progressed from that team on to the senior team.
"That's the way forward with development squads and the work that's going on in coaching. To get a good senior team you need to have lads coming through. The work that's been done for years is starting to bear fruit now and it's being continued on, which is the main thing."
As a young player, McCaffrey just turned up for squads and played away. He and others like him weren't aware so much of a 'grand plan' but gradually little milestones were reached.
"We'd seen little snippets of things," he said. "The Dublin minor team of 2000 got to a Leinster final; the Dublin minor team of 2004 got to a Leinster final as well and that was unheard of.
"In 2005 we won Leinster, and that was a breakthrough. In 2007 we won the Leinster again in minor. So you could see progress, that trophies were being won. You started to realise that something good can happen if everyone stays with it, and the right structures are being put in place."
Planning and cohesive effort was central, but so was the money to do the job, and a multi-million euro investment has been made in Dublin GAA for the last 10 to 12 years.
Humphrey Kelleher, one of the architects of the 'Blueprint for Dublin', knows that some GAA folk outside the capital begrudge that level of investment, but feels it's a mistaken view. Dublin GAA needed an overhaul around the turn of the millennium. The impetus for change coincided with the rise of the Celtic Tiger, so from a financial aspect, the timing was perfect.
"It was all about timing when the money was there, and Dublin were just trying to develop the games," said Kelleher. "There is a bit of a misnomer about the money that went to hurling.
"It wasn't just for hurling alone. What happened was, the money went to developing these GPOs (games promotions officers). They were brought in to increase the quality and standard of coaching.
"We changed the system so that to become a GPO, you had to go through a number of stringent training courses. They weren't just for hurling; they were for football, camogie, and ladies football.
"They were going into schools to teach the four main games rather than hurling only. It's going 10 or 12 years now, so it has taken that long to become an overnight success."
The challenge in the huge catchment area was and is immense, and something needed to be done to keep the GAA on the rise.
"We are in competition with rugby, soccer and other field sports," said Kelleher. "Gaelic games has to win the hearts and mind of the child, and the parents to make sure the child grows up with a huge love for the sport."
A former Waterford inter-county hurler, Kelleher and many non-Dublin-born Gaels like him have nevertheless taken great satisfaction in seeing hurling improve in Dublin.
"The standard has risen, and even the quality of the club games has gone up," said Kelleher. "What Dublin hurlers have now, in my view, is the capability of winning a senior All-Ireland.
"Even up to two years ago, I felt we didn't have that capability. I believe we have that now."
The work is ongoing in the capital and will continue to develop the games.
"All the clubs see a benefit," said Kelleher. "If there was no benefit, there would be no point. It has worked well for the footballers in particular. We have won a minor football All-Ireland, we have won three U-21s, and two senior All-Irelands.
"We have been to two minor All-Ireland finals in hurling; two senior All-Ireland semi-finals in hurling and won a National Hurling League, and a Leinster senior hurling title.
"If that didn't happen you'd say we weren't going the right way but because of the success there's huge willingness and desire and support to keep that model going.
"If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it."