BY DENIS HURLEY
IT’S too much to expect Cork minor and U21 team managers to simultaneously focus on winning and player development according to Jamie Wall, who has strongly backed county board coaching officer Kevin O’Donovan’s calls for the appointments of directors of hurling and football.
Having represented the county at minor and U21 level, Kilbrittain man Wall is well-placed to identify where the current system falls down in bringing players through after they leave the ranks of the Rebel Óg development squads. In his view, the blame doesn’t rest on any one particular factor, but ‘times have moved on, so it’s up to us to move with them’.
In the wake of defeats for the Cork minor and U21 hurlers last week, Wall composed a series of seven tweets on the subject which drew widespread attention. Expanding on those thoughts to The Southern Star, he likens the ideal underage set-up to that of a secondary school.
‘In the school, you have each year and each class within that and the teachers there to bring them along the curriculum,’ he says.
‘They have enough on their plates with that role so then you need a principal to oversee the whole thing and something like that is what I’d think is needed if you were drawing up the blueprint for a successful academy.
‘I was involved with the Mary I team as a selector for the Fitzgibbon Cup this year and that was only for a few months but I couldn’t get over the amount of organising that was required. A minor manager trying to orchestrate overall development on top of just trying to win would have no time at all.
‘It’s far too much to expect someone to be able to fulfil two mandates like that. If you try it, you’ll generally end up falling between two stools.’
The U21 loss to Limerick last Tuesday and the minor defeat against Tipperary on Thursday shouldn’t just be cast as evidence against either the respective team managements or the development squad system, though.
‘I know myself that the development squads work well, you can see that in the results,’ Wall says, ‘but the problem then is the jump from the development squads to the minor set-up, and the five or six years that take you from being a 16-year-old to a senior player.
‘I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t being overly critical of the minor or U21 managements, because they had to focus on trying to win, which is only natural.
‘I ask the question and I don’t know the answer, but is there an overall plan or strategy to help those 16-year-olds to come on?’
One area where he feels Cork might be held back is in how small clubs are perceived, with effects on and off the field.
‘What I’m saying is only what Kevin O’Donovan has already said,’ he says, ‘but is the fact that he’s from Kilmeen a reason that there hasn’t been a better response?
‘You can see that kind of snobbery elsewhere too – when Séamus Harnedy came on the Cork panel three years ago there were people wondering where St Ita’s was. He didn’t play minor for Cork and if he hadn’t gone to UCC he might have been lost to Cork – you could say that they mightn’t have reached the 2013 All-Ireland final or won Munster in 2014. As a comparison, Tadhg Morley did well for Templenoe at junior level last year and he’s starting for the Kerry seniors now.
‘In successful counties, it doesn’t matter where you’re from – Kerry have been working on bringing on the 2014 All-Ireland winners, even though not many of them have made the senior breakthrough yet, while in Dublin a 14-year-old is given a programme and put on a path that leads through minor and U21 to senior. We don’t have that kind of holistic or joined-up approach.’
Such a way of thinking would involve working with those who just fail to make the cut in squads and making use of the times of year when teams are not in action.
‘The way it is now,’ he says, ‘you lose and it’s, “The lads underage next year, we’ll see ye for trials in November”. The lads who don’t make it, they should be told what to do to improve because right now there are no proper guidelines – more often than not it’s about being told what not to do as what to do.
‘You could be going around in circles and saying the same things, but it’s just that bit of guidance and overall view of things that’s needed.’