Einstein reckoned that repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results was “The definition of insanity”. The latter might have been a fairly strong adjective to deploy, but banging your head continually off a stone wall hardly wafts of intelligence either. Sport seems to have recently been littered with situations of this ilk and in most cases it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out the problems.
It has often been opined – with no little regret – that during the era in which Sean Boylan brought unprecedented success to Meath football, certain aspects of operational functionality were, to some degree at least, ignored, or, an even more serious indictment, taken for granted.
How else to explain a scenario whereby Meath haven’t won an All Ireland MFC since 1992, have only one All Ireland U-21 FC and haven’t emerged from the province in that grade since 2001. The final underage grade has its detractors, and, while it may benefit from some scale of reform, to defenestrate it altogether would, to me, be a retrograde step and leave too much of a gap for players graduating from underage teams.
A decade or more ago, extensive work with underage hurling within the county began to bear fruit of sorts as a number of All Ireland MHC B Finals were contested and although only once was the trophy attained, many players made the step up from those teams to be part of the group which annexed the Nicky Rackard Cup. And at this point in time the feeling would be that those now in the care of Martin Smith, John Andrews and Kevin Dowd are within reach of a breakthrough at Christy Ring level.
At this point, it must be acknowledged that steps have been taken in more recent times to remedy matters with underage football. To some extent, there’s been an improvement in fortunes, with the contesting of the All Ireland MFC Final in 2012 and the provincial climax at U-21 level last season.
A coldly analytical appraisal would naturally conclude that the dearth of silverware at either grade has yet to be alleviated. However, there’s a common thread going through the fates which befell Andy McEntee and Sean Barry with the same bunch of lads. Simply in that they had the misfortune to run into the most bountifully talented Dublin underage team to emerge in two decades or more.
As another U-21 campaign rapidly approaches, it’s worth noting that for last year’s joust with the eventual outright winners, Barry had to make do without Eamon Wallace, Cillian O’Sullivan, James McEntee and Jason Daly through injury. Dublin may well have won anyway, but, having such a swathe of quality players unavailable didn’t help Meath’s chances.
Reference was made earlier to the view that rather than abandoning the U-21 competition, a restructuring thereof may go a long way in assuaging reasons why it alienates some within the GAA. Again, the questionable necessity for third level competitions raises its head. If they were removed from the fixtures scenario, running off the U-21 in a streamlined, coherent manner would surely be decidedly easier. Should a stubborn insistence remain though, why not at least try running it off during the summer as a county’s interest in the All Ireland SFC dissipates?
The Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup competitions are the elephants in the fixture making room. It is their continued existence which surely plays the biggest role in players having too many masters to serve at what is naturally the most arduous time of the year. Furthermore, no matter how much training regimes have admittedly evolved, it’s only natural that bodies can only sustain so much. In such circumstances, the third level competitions are surely the unnecessary drain.
That said, county senior managers – who now appear to have a worrying degree of control over a lot of things – need to assess the bigger picture too. Should it not stand to reason that players eligible for U-21 be allowed concentrate thereon in the early part of the season? After all, isn’t it the best interests of any county senior side to protect and indeed develop the young talent coming through?
Already in this fledgling season, younger players like Harry Rooney and Adam Flanagan and Joey Wallace have shown glimpses of what they can contribute to Mick O’Dowd’s side going forward. Yes, the latter pair saw some action last term, but this should be the season in which they’ll no doubt strive to achieve establishment. Moreover, the same aspirations could assuredly be affixed to the injury stricken mentioned earlier.
Nurturing underage talent and engineering success therewith is the best avenue to increasing chances of achievement further up the food chain. At the minimum, that’s a realistic ambition for Meath given the calibre of players currently residing in those ranks. Something worth keeping in mind.