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Cuthbert says GAA must grasp 'elitism' nettle

By John Harrington

The GAAs Talent Academy and Player Development Review Committee have warned that the values and very culture of the GAA will suffer hugely if the recommendations of their report which was published yesterday are not implemented.

The committee, which was established by GAA President John Horan, has found that a creeping elitism in the GAA is damaging the ethos of amateurism and volunteerism that has made the Association such a pillar of Irish society.

After interviewing over 1,000 youth development stakeholders from 32 counties and analysing 7,000 pieces of data, the committee identified a number of key areas that need to be addressed.

In terms of our evidence and our gathering its very obvious that the inter-county game is going like a train in the one direction, and the rest of the Association is wondering where we fit, said Committee member and former Cork football team manager, Brian Cuthbert.

The kernel of the whole problem is that winning is prioritised over everything else.

What this committee is very, very clearly saying is that we need to educate or stakeholders, parents, teachers, club coaches, players, around a certain philosophy that is developmental, rather than driving a winning agenda.

One of the biggest issues we would have discovered is that all of the inter-county academies, bar none really, drive an elite message, You are now in the squad, we are going after an All-Ireland final under-14, we are going after winning something big here, you must act this way because you are now an inter county player'.

And we dont have the wherewithal in the organisation to actually back that up. If we are a professional sport in another world we might be able to say that, that we are picking a talent stream of players that maybe we could sell or commodify, or maybe use in some way, shape or form in the future.

But this is the GAA, at 13 and 14 and 15 years of age, we feel very, very strongly that elite messaging is inappropriate

We're firm believers that if we don't start really, really examining where we're at and draw a line in the sand then our values and the very culture and DNA of the Irish people and their clubs are going to suffer hugely.

That's what this report is trying to drive home. The report is absolutely adamant that there's a place for everybody.

Yes, there are going to be talented boys who need to be looked after, but, most importantly, only 1 per cent ever get to the very top

With our vision, initiative, and commitment that we have provided in this report, it's very, very simple and can be summarised in this sentence As many as possible, for as long as possible, in the best environment possible.

Committee Chair Michael Dempsey, second from left, with from left to right, Uachtaráin Cumann Lúthchleas Gael John Horan, In-Coming GAA Director of Games Development Shane Flanagan and Committee Member Brian Cuthbert at the Launch of GAA Talent Academy and Player Development report at Croke Park in Dublin. Committee Chair Michael Dempsey, second from left, with from left to right, Uachtarin Cumann Lthchleas Gael John Horan, In-Coming GAA Director of Games Development Shane Flanagan and Committee Member Brian Cuthbert at the Launch of GAA Talent Academy and Player Development report at Croke Park in Dublin.

When conducting their research, the committee asked every stakeholder they interviewed three simple questions:

What is working well in your county?

What is not working so well in your county?

And how can the GAA help your county to improve?

Their analysis found lots of positives, but also a number of commonly recurring negatives.

Theres widespread concern about the excessive demands placed on elite young players who find themselves under pressure to play for a variety of teams.

Theres an appetite for greater education from players, coaches, and parents alike.

All of this feeds into the retention of players which is a serious issue for the GAA with far too many being lost to the game in their late teens and early twenties.

One of the biggest issues we face, and one of our biggest fears is retention of players, said Committee Chairman and former Kilkenny coach, Michael Dempsey.

Players are going through a lot of changes in life, whether it is moving to third level from post-primary to greater demands being placed on from inter-county teams to all of the psycho-social stuff as well in terms of their own personal development.

If we dont have a meaningful games programme, if we dont have a player-centred approach to coaching which is more meaningful for the player and is based on the player in terms of the end in mind and where we want that player to end up, we feel we will lose more players than we are at the moment.

We feel that if our recommendations are implemented we will retain more players because of the meaningful games programme, the changing to our coaching and being more player-centred.

The committee have put together a Gaelic Games Development Framework with the player and the club at its centre.

It has recommended that, as part of a county plan, games calendars will be produced that will allow for a co-ordinated approach to development and greater synergy between clubs, schools, and academy squads.

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