Diarmuid O’Donovan’s weekly column
LAST weekend was the big weekend of the year for underage inter-county Gaelic football in Munster.
The annual one-day development squad tournaments were held in Waterford (U14), Duhallow (U15) and Limerick (U16). While the U16 competition is on the go for almost 20 years, the U15 and U14 are of a more recent vintage. They have quickly become important as well as entertaining events.
This year, Cork won the U16 tourney, Tipperary won the U15 and South Kerry took the U14.
I had an involvement with one of three Cork teams in last year’s (2011) U14 competition in Waterford. It was an enjoyable experience. One of our teams won the plate and the other two lost in the semi-finals of the main tournament to Tipperary and South Kerry. Tipperary won the final.
Last year’s U14s have become this year’s U15s. Four of the 2011 mentors – Joe O’Hanlon from Buttevant, Brian Lotty, Glanmire; Paul Holland, Timoleague and yours truly – moved along with them. Three new coaches, Stephen Quinn (Clondrohid), Gerry Dineen (Inniscarra) and Ronan McCarthy (Douglas), joined us. This brought about a nice blend of continuity and freshness.
While the tournaments played last Saturday attract a good deal of media attention, little or nothing is reported on what happens in the 12 months between tournaments. The Cork public, and the Kerry public for that matter, will look at the results and raise eyebrows at Tipperary winning underage tournaments. They forget that this is the price of developing Gaelic football across the province. The old order will have to change.
What was even more interesting than Tipperary winning on Saturday was the outstanding performances by the Clare team. The Clare mentors put in a lot of work over the last 12 months.
They defeated North Kerry in the quarter-final and pushed the Cork team I was involved with to a point in the semi-final. Two of the Clare players, Colin Hehir (Milltown Malbay) and Niall McCarthy (Lissycasey) gave what may have been, the best performances of the day.
(As I didn’t see all the games, I cannot say with certainty that they were the best performances, but I did not hear of any other players being spoken of in such superlatives.)
Tipperary and Clare have adopted a completely different approach to their development squads than that of Cork and Kerry. Clare and Tipp are concentrating on a small panel of players. Cork and Kerry, who have larger playing populations enter two teams and do not grade these teams as firsts and seconds.
All four counties have their eye on the 2015 Munster Minor Football championship. It will be very interesting to see how things will develop.
A great deal has happened within the Cork squad since the competition in Waterford last July. There were more than 90 players involved at U14 level and we were able to pick three teams. After the tournament there was about five more field sessions between July and the end of September.
After that, three venues were set up around the county where the players were taught the proper posture and techniques for strength training. As the boys are going through their growing phase, no weights were used.
That growing phase is remarkable. We said farewell to the faces we had become familiar with in November. When we met again in mid-February they looked completely different. In November the average height was about 5ft-4in and I’d say the average shoe size was about size five. In mid February the average height was about 5ft-8in and the shoe size was nearer size 8.
You can add another inch and shoe size between mid February and now.
This is another reason why it is important to keep the development squads as inclusive as is practical during the 14 to 16-year-old age group. Boys develop at different stages. When they grow, they grow like bamboo: fast and tall. They often lose strength and co-ordination during this period, only to recover it again within six months.
There were two players who were not considered for last Saturday because, quite literally, they are currently suffering from growing pains.
As some boys lost form, others found it. There were 10 players involved in the larger squad this year who were not in the squads in 2011. Six of these made it into the panels for last Saturday. Do not be surprised if some of the players who dropped down this year make their way back again.
The Munster U15 competition is organised by the Duhallow Board. It is named the Humphrey Kelleher tournament in memory of one of Cork’s greatest full-backs and an All-Ireland senior medal winner in 1973.
My team, which was called ‘Rebel Óg’, were based in Knocknagree for our early rounds. The other Cork team named ‘Corcaigh’ played first in Boherbue and later in Cullen. The weather played havoc with the venues and several games had to be moved because the pitches could not cope with two successive matches.
Given the difficulties the Duhallow Board did a great job.
Our first game was against Waterford who were a big and strong side. They made life very difficult for us in the first half. Eventually we pulled away and won 1-12 to 1-2. Corcaigh also had their hands full with a game Limerick side in Boherbue before pulling away to win 1-12 to 2-0.
We were expecting to play North Kerry in our semi-final and were a little surprised to learn that Clare won. We sent a man to watch the game and he reported back that the better team won and Clare had some very good players. I met Michael O’Shea, one of the North Kerry mentors, in Millstreet later and he confirmed my reports.
Our semi-final with Clare had not started long before we knew we were in a battle. We did well to be two points up at half-time after playing with the wind. Clare got on top in midfield in the second half and we were forced to rely on the unlimited substitution rule to keep up our intensity on the field.
We were three points down with four minutes to go before one of our subs Luke Hackett, got the all-important goal. After that, our defence held out in true Humphrey Kelleher fashion to get us home by a point.
While we were put to the pin of our collar to defeat Clare, Corcaigh were doing battle with Tipperary in Cullen. Tipperary won by two points. It was back to Millstreet for the Rebel Óg versus Tipperary final. It was strange to see the two Kerry teams playing in the plate final before the big game. But that’s the risk you run when you don’t play your strongest team.
Tipperary were stronger than us in the final. They created and took more chances than we did. Fair play to them they deserved their victory.
That is not to say that this was a disaster for Cork. It certainly was not. All year we worked hard on re-enforcing the basic skills of kicking with both feet, catching and blocking, and most importantly playing for the team.
We are still a little weak on tactics, but that will come because the basics are right.
When we sit down with our Games Development Officer, Paudie Kissane, who does tremendous work organising everything, we will assess what has happened and set out the plans for next season and beyond.
The Humphrey Kelleher tournament may have ended in defeat, but certainly did not end in failure.
It would have been nice to keep the trophy in Cork but it would be nicer still if the players can build on all that they learned over the past year.
It is a bit far out to make a definite prediction, but Cork are well on course to win the 2015 Munster Minor Football championship.