BY DENIS HURLEY
JAMIE Wall believes that continuity is key in terms of ensuring that Cork ensure the maximum benefits in terms of developing of underage players.
The recent All-Ireland minor football victory was guided by a management team led by Bobbie O’Dwyer which was able to draw on the experience of having worked with those players in the preceding years and Wall, who led Cork to an All-Ireland U16 tournament win, feels that having such a foundation can only help the players involved.
Having taken over the team at U15 level in 2018, he has seen the advantages first-hand.
‘I think it’s very important with kids this age, who have so much more going on in their lives nowadays, that you have a manager and management team that has built up a relationship with them,’ he says.
‘Especially when you move to a two-year age-group like minor is, it’s important to have a reference point from both. I would personally feel strongly that you need to have people who know the players.
‘With our group, it has taken us 15 or 16 months to get our best 15 and 24, on the pitch and in their best positions, getting to know what kind of a form a fella is in. You see them once a week or twice a week if you’re lucky, and it takes time to build up relationships.
‘They mightn’t be performing well and it’s about looking at the other reasons why. At this age, it’s about being the opposite of ruthless, being holistic. Is it his love-life, is it school, is there some family situation? You spend so much time getting to know them over the couple of years, it’s an awful shame if it gets lost.
‘What’s happening now is that there are really good coaches in at underage, so the long-term plan is that it might look like a one-year term as minor manager, but what it actually is is that your term starts at U15 and lasts for three years, so that you can develop the group, rather than just parachuting someone in cold at minor level.
‘This is going to improve again. It has been good for the last few years but, with Aidan O’Connell in now, it’ll kick up another notch and you’ll have another level of expertise.
‘I think that that’s a progressive pathway to follow.’
Cork and Wexford both hosted tournaments, with Cork beating the Model County at the start of August to determine which competition would host the A grade. With Tipperary, Limerick and Clare also qualifying, Cork beat the Shannonsiders in the semi-final and then overcame Tipp in the decider.
What made the victory so pleasing for Wall was that he could say that they had not fallen short in searching for the best players.
‘It was something said to me when I was younger,’ he says, ‘as a management team you can get lazy, “There’s my panel of 48,” and it can be like a semi-state job, where they pass up through U14, U15, U16 but it’s totally ignorant of reality, which is that different fellas are developing at different ages.
‘We had our core group and kept them training during April and May but as well as that we went out and looked at club games and put together trials, we saw upwards of 85 or 90 players, all more than once.
‘That brought our numbers up massively, to around 50, with the long-term aim of seeing how far they could take it, training four or five weeks with better players. Some of them kicked on straightaway and some of them will down the line, but our attitude was, ‘Let’s cast the net as wide as possible.’
‘Cork is massive and there could be a young fella that you’ve never heard of and 15 or 16 was when he decided to kick on. It would be us doing our jobs not to have an eye out for that.
‘We had 52 on the day, with a few injuries. We had a 27-man panel for the A team and a 22-man panel for the B team, but a huge cohort of them were not involved in the original group.
‘That was something I was really happy with, because it meant that you’ve gone out and done your job.’
They won’t all go on to play for Cork, of course, but Wall is keen that the trickle-down effect is strong, helping players and clubs around the county.
‘I said to the group, “There’s 50 of us in the panel, let’s be realistic – if five or six play senior, that’s a lot,” he says
‘But they have to keep pushing it as far as they can, because the further you push it, even if you don’t get the ultimate goal, they could win a county championship and be the best player for their club.
‘The plan is a rising tide lifts all boats, which in turn increases Cork’s chances because, if we have a higher standard of club championship, then you’ve a higher standard of overall player, pushing the best players to be better again.
‘Overall, it has to be development thinking, how can we get as many fellas as possible up to as high a level as possible.
‘The winning of the tournament was a nice thing, but it didn’t define whether this year was a success or not. For me, the success was that 50 young fellas have played championship for Cork and 90-100 have had a chance to see if they can make it this year.
‘Opportunities were given and taken and players got better. At the end of the day, one team can win a cup – does that mean everyone else is unsuccessful? They’re development squads, the clue is in the name.’
And he was heartened by the wide-ranging offers of help.
‘When I did an interview with Kieran Shannon earlier this year, I had a moan about how we don’t have a centre of excellence and how we were struggling to find a pitch one day,’ Wall says.
‘I got different messages from different clubs volunteering their facilities to the U16s if they could ever help. Ballymartle, Blarney, Bandon, Carrigtwohill, Erin’s Owen dug us out of a hole one day and they couldn’t wait to help.
‘Over the course of the summer, we had Brian Murphy and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín coming in to do sessions with our backs, too. They couldn’t wait to do something for Cork, guys are waiting to be asked to help.
‘There’s loads of goodwill there, you just have to harness it.’
And Wall firmly believes that there is no shortage of resources, it’s making sure that they are handled is the key.
‘I’ve often taken issue with the quote about the mushrooms,’ he says.
‘Not to say that I’m hammering the greats of Cork hurling, but I actually think it’s the wrong analogy, I think that diamonds is a lot better comparison.
‘The thing about mushrooms is that they’re not there one minute and then they are, but that’s never been the case. They’ve always been there in Cork – some of them are at the rock-face and some need a bit of digging.
‘The players are there, if you just do your job. It’s too much of a sporting county, with too high a population, for the talent not to be there.’