Where’s the three-year plan for Mayo football?

By Terry Reilly (c)

AS promised last week, and in response to calls for amplification of a recent article on Mayo football, Another View returns to the topic this week with a view to initiating some informed thinking which may, perhaps, lead to better days.

As you know we have not won the senior All-Ireland football crown since 1951… that’s 52 years ago!

We have not won the All-Ireland Minor football championship since 1985 … that’s almost 20 years ago!

And we have not won the All Ireland under 21 football championship since 1983 … that’s 20 years ago!

Someone has calculated that we have lost 12 All-Ireland finals at one levelor another since 1985 in Croke Park. Exceptions have been the National

Football League title win over Galway a few years ago, and Crossmolina°s magnificent All-Ireland club win.

And of course the heroic wins of our sterling young women in the Green and Red who have really distinguished themselves.

Twelve final defeats at Croker in 18 years: does that prove we don°t have the players? Or does it prove we had the second best set of players on those twelve occasions? Or does it pose the °What If° question? Surely somewhere in between lies the real truth?

The Committee set up by the County Board under chairman Martin Carney found predictable weaknesses in Mayo’s structures. These included an overcrowded fixtures schedule compressed still further by the revamped intercounty championships and national football leagues.

And it is particularly critical of coaching practices in the county, saying: “Too many teams throughout the county are coached by people who have neither the coaching qualifications nor much knowledge about imparting the skill of the game.” What an indictment!

Coaching, the Committee feel, should be co-ordinated to promote and develop a Mayo system of football that all coaches would then endeavour to implement. In other words, we are all over the place when it comes to coaching for success.

It is a point this column has made time and time again over the years. I have seen over a lifetime vasts amount of money spent by clubs and counties on coaching, and to my mind most of it has been diluted because the goals have never been thought through or evaluated … or because the coaches fell short of requirement. The same mistakes are repeated time and time again.

It must be a cause for concern that Mayo hasn’t developed an effective brand of football capable of lifting us and transforming us into a force to be reckoned with. Mayo is by no means the worst, but it is a classic case of throwing money at a problem and hoping for the best. By and large our players have been coached over the past thirty years to become neat, pretty performers while our record at national level has been far from impressive.

A classic case of style before substance.

DOWN THE DRAIN

Mayo County Board had a total expenditure of almost 730,000 in 2003. Excluding coaching costs of 23,000, the Board spent close on 400,000 euro purely on preparing and fielding its senior, under 21, minor, junior and U 16 football teams (and including almost 70,000 spent on hurling). At present day figures, that’s 4m euro over the past ten years, and the next ten years will cost at least another 4m (again based on present day costs). So you can see that the County Board has spent huge amounts preparing its football teams. The return, I think you will agree, has been exceedingly poor in terms of national titles won. Worse still, we haven’t identified or developed an effective system of football capable of making us a major force (as rightly concluded by Martin Carney’s Committee). As I have previously stated, if it were running a competitive business based on getting results, the County Board (of which I was once a member, let me add) would have been wound up for under-achievement.

°Poor coaching” at all levels needs to be addressed. But this deficit is only the by-product of a largely ultra conservative board that all too often has placed its trust in the lazy, unimaginative ‘quick fix’ solution of appointing a manager in the hope that he can miraculously find the players and lift the county. The board acts in this manner because it has always been that way.

When the manager inevitably fails we are told we don’t have the players and the manager eventually gets the boot, or walks away in sheer frustration. Before he goes he drops the full-back or the full-forward. Naturally, the County Board, which made the appointment in the first instance, gets off Scott free and proceeds to appoint another hopeful. Really, what County Boards like Mayo need to realise is that they are in charge and if they want to claim the credit then they must also take the blame.

So what do you do? One remedy might be to get the County Board to recognise that its modus operandi is taking it nowhere and to look at setting up an imaginative new platform for the renaissance of Mayo football. At its core would be an ambitious plan to increase membership, playing numbers, top grade coaches, and bring the game to the great gamut of youngsters who are no longer picked up in the community/national school net. And ultimately, make Mayo into a real force to be reckoned with at national level.

Any such new departure would stand or fall on its performance against a specific list of goals over a specified time and within specified budgets.

County Boards, by their nature, are largely defensive. Mayo County Board is no exception. Sadly, it’s unlikely to critically examine its own performance over a period of years. But it must do just that. It must be brave and big enough to take the steps necessary to bring about meaningful change.

Embracing change does not mean relinquishing control: but it does mean fresh thinking and decisive leadership to get the motivational dice rolling.

In the great sweep of democracy in action that the GAA is, County Boards are formed by clubs. Club nominate members. Clubs elect county officers. But good people in clubs are too busy running their own units to overly commit to the renaissance Mayo football needs. They don°t want to become embroiled in the politics that lies behind county boards. So people opt out. Pass the buck. In that scenario, no one has a mind to ask the County Board for its three or five year plan, for its vision of the future. Is that not incredible?

Let’s learn from the waste. Let’s learn from past mistakes. Let’s not keep regurgitating those mistakes ad nauseum. The world is moving on. Mayo football must move with it or continue to trail behind, feeding off the dying embers of really great memories that have bypassed every supporter younger than sixty.

° In the interests of furthering the debate I will return to the topic again next week. Meanwhile, I’d like to hear more of your views: email me at terryreilly@eircom.net

*This article first appeared in The Western People newspaper.

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