A way forward based on continuity

There was much conjecture surrounding the ‘debate’ involving Pat Gilroy and Andy McEntee thrown onto The Sunday Game in a scatter-gun manner at the end of last year. To call it a debate, though, would be to deploy it with the utmost linguistic licence. What it actually amounted to was a party political broadcast on behalf of Dublin.

If you strip away the tribal hubris however, what it did reveal was that, basically, the boom which the two shades of blue have living in for a decade now can actually be traced back to structures and processes which were initiated as far back as 2003 when Gaelic games in the capital got its first cash injection.

That came about following the realisation that underage success had lagged to such an extent that – at that stage – they hadn’t won an All Ireland MFC title in nine years. That drought would eventually go on until 2012. When it was quenched, mind you, it was one of the most seminal moments in the history of the GAA.

Not only because from that bunch of young lads emerged Ciaran Kilkenny – in particular – and Cormac Costello, among others. Both of whom have gone on to be pivotal components in the greatest winning machine the game has ever encountered. More importantly though, Dessie Farrell has continued to transition with the group of players whom has moulded from Development Squad stage through Minor and U-21 before taking the senior reins in succession to Jim Gavin and ensuring that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Dessie Farrell inculcated a culture of success in Dublin

Now, it would be disingenuous in the extreme to single out Meath in terms of having fallen behind their old rivals when it comes to the conveyor belt bringing future stars through. The majority of the country is in the same bracket there. However, credit where it’s due, Meath have, albeit belatedly, begun to turn things around quite impressively. Garnering two Leinster U-17 titles, the final U-18 one as well as John McCarthy having his current crop of Minors qualified for Leinster final against Offaly – if a certain doctor ever allows such games to go ahead.

Even allowing for the upturn in fortunes outlined in the previous couple of  lines, the dearth of a meaningful run at U-21/U-20 in recent years has undoubtedly hindered attempts at progression at the highest level. It can hardly be coincidence that the breakthroughs achieved by both Cavan and Tipperary in 2020 followed on from fairly bountiful periods in both counties and underage level.

Moreover, an intrinsic part of the reason behind all those counties attaining silverware at underage and making it count at senior level is the joined-up thinking of having, say, Farrell going the whole journey with those Dublin lads, likewise Mickey Graham in Cavan and – with the exception of a brief sojourn to Wexford – David Power with Tipperary.

To that end, I welcome the three year development plan concerning the management of underage teams announced by the Meath Co Board this week. Especially taken in conjunction with the appointment of Paul Nestor as part of Andy McEntee’s management team for the forthcoming season – God willing we have one.

Newly appointed Meath senior selector Paul Nestor

The former Batterstown, Blackhall Gaels, St Paul’s, Meath and Monaghan footballer has been involved in the management of Dunshaughlin underage and adult teams and, of most relevance in this case, he was also part of the backroom team of a couple of the Meath Minor sides referred to earlier. On the basis of the latter fact, I said to him about 16 months ago, that he was the logical choice to take on the Meath U-20 team at that stage. That said, of course from a personal perspective, there was great pride in seeing Dunboyne’s Ger Robinson assume the role.

As was reported upon here last week, Bernard Flynn has now taken on the job – for the next two seasons as it happens – therefore, it was actually hoped that Paul would take up a position much closer to home. Greatest upset about that not now being the case revolves around the manner in which those ambitions fell through. Hope will be maintained that with patience and understanding on both sides it may still happen in the not too distant future.

To return to point, though, the intriguing and encouraging thing about the new arrangement is that not only will not only will teams be held together at 18 and 19, McCarthy will be a selector with Bernard next year and take over management of the U-20 team in 2023. Thus ensuring a pathway forward based on continuity.

The most interesting and important development could potentially be the advent of the U-18/19 panels. For one thing, it will keep lads in that age group playing football and also provided another vital link between undersge teams and those at the top table.

You’d imagine the previous year’s minor manager would be central to that setup. In a couple of years time, that will mean Cathal O’Bric on the ticket. On a personal level, I am thrilled to see the Navan O’Mahonys clubman finally get involved with the management of a county team. The only pity is that it has taken so long to get him there.

Cathal O’Bric coached Navan O’Mahonys to astounding underage successes before becoming involved with the Wolfe Tones

O’Bric – a National League medalist in 1994 – engineered an astounding level of underage success for the Brews Hill club between 1996 and the early 2000s. With the most talented bunch of underage footballers I’ve ever seen together. Something underpinned by the fact they won every county title from U-12 to Minor multiple times.

In most if not all of those finals, Cathal’s charges defeated Dunboyne teams. Often in a very painful manner – on the scoreboard – for our lads. Which was ironic as his father Brendan is a former Principal of the local National School.

In more recent years, Cathal, who followed in his father’s footsteps to a career in teaching, has been heavily involved with the Wolfe Tones club in Kilberry. Furthering his coaching experiencing whilst looking after both adult and minor teams in the purple and gold.

At a time when the club whose catchment area stretches from beyond the racecourse out as far as Gibbstown has seen the emergence of another generation of top performers such as Tomas O’Reilly, Saran O’Fionnagain – grandson of the late Fintan Ginnity – and Fiachra Ward.

All of the Meath teams appear to be on a sound footing from which to make progress and continue the county’s journey back to the standing within the national picture it so badly needs.

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