I had the privilege of introducing the last man who captained a successful Mayo All Ireland winning minor team to my own young man and a few of the Castlebar under- 12s at their training session last Saturday morning at McHale Park. Michael Fitzmaurice, captain of the Mayo minors in 1985, approached my car with a bag of footballs on his back. I hadn’t a clue who he was until he removed his cap. Even then it took me a second or two to recognise the former star as, like a few more of us he is, by now, follically challenged. He sat into the car and we chatted football for a while. I was delighted to discover that he was a part time GAA coaching officer, travelling around to a number of national schools down around his home place, Lacken. Michael was a great footballer and I recall making a number of telephone calls to his home in the mid nineties trying to persuade him to get involved with the Mayo senior set up of my tenure. He couldn’t make the commitment at the time for a number of reasons and I have to say it was our loss. Still it was good to have the chat and to reminisce about times past. Michael had spent the morning working with a Mayo under-14 development squad and I am sure they will be better players because of his tutoring. So also will the national school kids in and around Lacken.
Trying to keep hold of the next generation
Driving home with Johnny and his young buddies it occurred to me that the GAA will soon have to deal with the elephant in the room that is the imminent dwindling in popularity of our national games when pitted against the rising popularity of its two main competitors, rugby and soccer. I honestly believe it is the first time in my life that I feel the organisation must get out of its comfort zone and become more proactive in ensuring that the nation’s youth get the opportunity to play our national game. I also believe that these opportunities should be extended so that as many players as possible get to play the games at the highest level. Yet the existing system militates heavily against many schools and communities throughout the country. Thousands of young children, for a combination of reasons, are not getting the opportunity to play Gaelic football on a regular basis largely due to the paucity of quality coaches, or in many cases, no coaches at all. Now more than ever the GAA needs to put hundreds of Michael Fitzmaurice’s out into national and secondary schools to deliver quality coaching to the next generation. The kernel of my point is that the rugby and soccer fraternity are doing this so why can’t the GAA? I cannot ever recall the youth of the country having become so immersed in rugby and soccer as they have in recent times. The success of the Irish rugby team this year in winning their first Grand Slam since 1948 has meant that the number of young kids wanting to play rugby was never so high. That success, coupled with Munster’s brilliance in recent years, has seen an enormous growth in young kids wanting to be the next ROG or BOD. Leinster have now got in on the act and their brilliant win over Munster two weeks ago means that rugby coverage will be guaranteed the main page of all sports supplements for another few weeks at least. I don’t know if it’s me, but everywhere I happen to see a TV these evenings there is a live ‘must win’ soccer match beaming into sitting rooms with goggle- eyed youngsters wholly entranced. It is essential now more than ever that we initiate an aggressive marketing plan to ensure that our national games don’t become the third sport of choice for our youngsters.
Back from the Big Apple
The Mayo football team returned from New York on Tuesday morning last after a successful weekend. There has been some debate as to whether New York should be involved in the Connacht championship at all? There is no doubt in my mind that this is a fixture that should be retained as it presents a wonderful opportunity for all involved to have a bit of fun with little or no pressure on participating teams. The naysayers will suggest that it costs a lot of money to send a team over to play a game of football. But that would be a very narrow viewpoint to take as, having travelled to NY with GAA teams on four occasions, I fully realise the enormous pride supporters have in their county teams. You must remember that lots of Irish people who went to the States cannot travel home to see their county team play and this chance, albeit only once every five years, allows the native to shove out his chest when he sees the county jersey in and around the Bronx. As far as I am concerned there are no supporters as good as the Mayo gang. Several hundred of them made the trip and from what I hear their money was spent wisely. By that I mean they left a sizeable portion of it in the Irish Pub, which is of course owned by the former Mayo footballer, Eugene Rooney. He is obviously happy and those who spent some time in his two bars were happy in the knowledge that at least their hard earned cash was going to another Mayo man!
As I mentioned here last week, the result was a foregone conclusion and that is how things transpired. Little was learned as regards the real strength or otherwise of this Mayo outfit as, in fairness to New York, the sting was gone out of their challenge after 15 minutes. The real benefit of the weekend away from a Mayo perspective was the opportunity for the team to gel. I believe, from some reports home, that the line up of social events was nothing short of fantastic. There were so many in fact that the Mayo team failed to get around to them all. All in all it was job, Oxo, and roll on the winners of Roscommon v Leitrim for McHale Park in a month’s time.
The game was nearly over when I realised it was being broadcast live by MWR. When I did tune in I realised that I had missed expert analysis from Mayo’s most successful manager, Pat Holmes. Pat was pressed into action late in the day as a sub. Being the shy man that he is he was reluctant to co-commentate on the match, not to mention the fact that he had picked up a little dose of laryngitis on his arrival in the Big Apple. Notwithstanding a long session of football discussion the night before, he proved himself a competent match analyst and I expect he will get many other opportunities to share his knowledge and wisdom with followers of GAA.