Carr relishing developmental role

Killannin native Dennis Carr is making an impact as Galway GAA games manager

Something always needs to be done. Dennis Carr wouldn't have it any other way. This week the Cúl Camps started throughout the country with 10,000 children in Galway ready for action throughout the summer. There is always a problem to be solved, but in the summer that is a challenge Carr simply embraces.

A talented underage player with Killannin, Carr has operated as a coach and analyst at all levels of the game so he is thrilled that the maroon and white are relevant on the provincial and national stage.

The academy system implemented in the west is a source of considerable pride. "The academies are going well," Carr says. "We have regional squads, three at U14, three at U15, and two U16s.

"We keep the net as wide as possible. We are very conscious of biological versus chronological age. You could be a small little 14 year old and you could have a big lad at 14, who is like a 16 year old. The relative age effect too, if your birthday is in January. We are really conscious of that with the academy, we keep the net as wide as possible.

"We have up to 80 players at each venue at U14 and U15. It peters out a bit at U16. At the moment we have 80 players U16 training all summer. That would have been cut down from 180 or 160. We try to keep it as wide as possible for as long as possible."

Logistically it is demanding, but Carr highlights how clubs provide considerable assistance. "We have 36 volunteer coaches every Saturday, from Ros A Mhíl out to Kilkerrin-Clonberne," he explains. "We might have eight different venues going, we have to thank all of the clubs for the use of their facilities.

"We would have Ros A Mhíl, An Spidéal, Westside, St Mary's College, Killererin, Kilkerrin-Clonberne, Dangan, and Caherlistrane, Tuam Stars, we have different venues on different weeks. The clubs have been really good."

Alan Glynn's minor management had significant involvement with the academy teams in recent years too according to Carr. "We have 36 coaches from all of the clubs and we are developing coaches in it. The minor team playing the next night, the S & C man Jack Hynes - a GPO with Galway GAA to the goalkeeping coach -Neil Walsh would have come through the academy.

"Alan Glynn too, Timmy Rabbitte also went back to the academy after the Galway ladies, Mícheál Antaine Ó Loideáin came through. Alan did the academy for years and years. So we are developing coaches for the clubs hopefully that they would take a senior team in their clubs. We have loads of high profile people wanting to get involved in the academy and so many coaches who are at the top of their game. They have all done well for themselves from a coaching perspective."

The collaborative approach helps with former inter-county stars eager to assist. "Saturday is the designated day for academy," Carr says. "You have no club fixtures. That has always been the way in Galway. It works really, really well. They are not setting fixtures against the academy days, they know that Saturday morning is for Galway underage football and hurling."

"It is lovely, it is on early on a Saturday morning, it suits the parents, it is regionalised. We are conscious of not bringing parents too far. That is why we keep it regionalised. With 240 players it would be hard to bring them all to the one venue - you would get lost in it. They get a chance to develop, it is player centred, they get educational talks.

"The feedback has been good with players and parents intent on learning. "This is the first proper season we have had since the lockdowns," Carr adds. "During the lockdown we were doing talks on dealing with setbacks in sport - not getting picked on a squad or not making a team. JP O'Connell that is his line of work, he talks on that, and balancing school and sport.

"Garda Ronan McNulty does a really informative talk on lifestyle, what happens if they get into trouble with the law and dangers of drink and drugs and the stuff that happens to good young lads, to good families. That is really important.

"On the mental health side of things we have people coming in talking to them. At the start the young lads were a bit stand offish about it, but they really buy into it. They could have friends with issues or it could be themselves. There is support for them in the clubs and the GAA. Jessica Lee has been really good with her time with nutrition and hydration tips for parents and players. Performance psychology Coach Tony Óg Regan has also been a key contributor to the academy squads.

"We have so many players/parents you try to get as much information as possible. Microsoft Teams has been great, you could have a live webinar on a Wednesday evening, they are all IT literate from school. It is more convenient than driving them across town to Loughgeorge in heavy traffic. It is more manageable."

Ultimately Carr is aware and keen to stress that clubs are the heartbeat of the association. It is where sporting journeys start for players. "Our main remit is to develop the clubs," Carr states. "We are extremely lucky in Galway with the quality of club people helping out in the clubs.

"The young men can return to the clubs with the knowledge they are obtaining thanks to their extensive education. If the club is successful, the county will also be successful. We may have 240 U14 players, but only two or three of them will play senior inter-county football; the vast majority will be club players. Our main responsibility is to keep them playing football for as long as we can."

That chiefly is why Carr is hopeful about a new coaching programme which is set to be rolled out by Connacht GAA shortly. The club development officer model where third level students completing sport specific courses will get the opportunity to work on a six month placement. It is hoped that clubs will be able to ensure the coaches help co-ordinate nursery activities and the Go Games programme through school visits and promoting activities within clubs throughout the province.

"It will be run through Connacht GAA, so a club can get a coach for six months as part of their work placement," Carr says. "It would be a paid work placement for sports science students.

"Some clubs might double up depending on the amount of schools in the area. Expressions of interest have gone out and we have in the region of 40 clubs. We held a meeting a month and a half ago with the County Board and Connacht GAA. Nearly all of the clubs came in to listen to it and there is huge interest in it. The closing date was last Friday and that is a good initiative."

Carr is planning for a bright maroon and white future.


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