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This Sporting Life With Derrick Lynch And Eoghan Moloney

A worrying tweet emerged over the weekend from a guy called Shane Smith.

Shane is a Dub and is involved in underage coaching while he also holds a BSc in Sports Science. He detailed some of what can only be described as the lunatic things he had heard were going on with some underage teams.

This included U-10 girls on a strength and conditioning program, U-12 boys on a spinning class, parents of an U-6 team requesting that a full on game be arranged, and an U-14 girls coach looking to have GPS trackers used.

Just go back and have a read over that last paragraph again to really get a sense of what exactly is happening.

Where is the madness going to end? Shane’s tweet was picked up by those who were lamenting the sight of an underage schools game in Ulster which finished on a full time score of 0-2 to 0-1. A video of the game showed the “attacking” team kicking the ball over and back across the field as they were faced with the sight of every last one of their opponents in front of them. This is not football, and those coaches who directed those children to go out and play like that should never be let near another team again.

Football in particular is at a crossroads as to where exactly it is headed. How often have we written in this column about the need for change in terms of championship structures to make it competitive again? Where exactly has the fun element gone from the game at underage level if this is the type of nonsense that is going on?

No more than at senior level, it is not everyone who is at this nonsense that we have seen in recent times, but we still need to tackle those who are. The GAA cannot afford to lose young talent to other sports, but where is the enjoyment in the win at all costs mentality? It is not a new problem but it certainly one that is worsening. A prominent local GAA figure was recently heard to lament that some coaches are more interested in “getting a medal for my little Johnny” than developing the senior players of the future. That is not sustainable. Surely clubs can see the road in front of them, particularly here in Clare. All they have to do is look at how commonplace amalgamations have become at underage level, and there is the stark reality for the future. The numbers simply are not there, and in less than 10 years time, we will have some form of a divisional championship here in Clare, of that there is no doubt. Therefore surely the emphasis must be on sustainable development rather than going gung-ho for underage titles at the risk of burning players out.

I am not for minute suggesting that we remove the competitive element of underage games, but the importance we place on the outcome of the game must be secondary to the importance we place on the outcome of player development. Celebrate the efforts made to do the right thing rather than lament the scoring chance passed up. Praise the work-rate and improvements made from the last day rather than criticise the mistakes made. Use the mistakes made in a positive light and challenge them to improve on them for the next game. Make every player feel seven-feet-tall for the efforts they have put in as they leave the dressing room to head home. Most importantly of all, for God sake let young players play.

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With the club month of April fast approaching, we already have the Clare U-16 football championship up and running, while this weekend marks the start of the Clare U-21 hurling championships along with the adult football leagues. A plethora of local club games are set to be played over the coming weeks, weather permitting of course.

With that in mind, there are no doubt going to be the hardy patrons who will want to take in as much of the action as possible on a given weekend. While the infamous stretch in the evening is creeping in over the last few weeks, it is likely that a number of games will unavoidably clash meaning it will not be possible to catch them all.

Just a quick one to ponder is how many of these games will actually start on time? It’s something that is almost unique to the GAA, in that a game fixed for 12pm might get underway at 12.15pm, if you are lucky. There really is no excuse for it, and it is something that should not happen. It might only seem like a small thing, but the time is fixed for a reason. Why not stick to it?

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It was clear to anyone that was in Cusack Park on Sunday that the atmosphere was unlike anything seen all through the league, in any game. Clare versus Limerick simply is a different experience to most sporting events.

There were more than 8,409 in the Park but at times it sounded like 28,000. The tribal roars left hairs standing to attention, as the respective fan bases rose to their feet in excitement or anger as the game ebbed and flowed.

Somehow, the snowfall added to the war-like atmosphere. You got the feeling this match could have been played on the moon and there would have been 8,000 at it. The fact that it was a league game in March mattered little. When these two face off, it matters.

The line in the Limerick media from John Kiely the week before the game was that this was no revenge mission. I don’t think even the most naive of Clare people would have believed that. I, a Limerick man, certainly didn’t.

Limerick people wanted revenge for the embarrassment of last June. There’s no way the Limerick squad didn’t feel the same and even before throw-in, this was confirmed.

Skirmishes were breaking out all over the field and Conor Cleary and Gearóid Hegarty had little interest in the sliotar and plenty of interest in impersonating rugby players, as they wrestled on the ground. Aaron Gillane and Jack Browne also weren’t afraid of becoming acquainted with each other or the butt of a hurley, either.

When Peter Casey slotted his point in the first half, Tom Morrissey, who was 20 yards behind him, let off a massive fist pump celebration, as if he’d scored a point in a knock-out championship game. These two counties, while amicable off the field, simply just do not like each other on it.

This behaviour, while it tests the boundaries of the rule-book and what is allowed, is what makes hurling that tribal and passionate game it is.

The crack of bodies and the outpouring of raw emotion in hurling engage the spectators like no other sport. The physical, in-your-face stance both Limerick and Clare take when they meet is due to the rivalry that runs in the very fabric of Munster hurling’s core. Both teams play a silky, intelligent and polished brand of hurling, as a result of Paul Kinnerk’s imprint left on both squads. But when the Shannonside derby occurs, this can often go out the window and a war of attrition can ensue.

What is sure to renew this rivalry throughout the summer is the fact these squads probably know each other better than any of those gone before. The crossover between those from both counties that lined out on the same teams for Ard Scoil Rís, UL, LIT and Mary I is massive.

This is also proof, though, that knowing is different to liking. Many of this Clare squad make the journey across the county line daily but when they do so collectively on June 9, they’ll know they’re behind enemy lines.

When they step on the field in the Gaelic Grounds, they will be made acutely aware of it. But they wouldn’t have it any other way. They will receive just as frosty a reception as Limerick did in the arctic conditions last Sunday but in the summer sun. This is the crucial point for when the sides clash next. Both will be fitter, faster, more in-tune and will almost certainly have conditions conducive to how they like to play the game. If last Sunday did not whet your appetite for the prospect of a classic in June, then this raw, passionate, visceral rivalry simply isn’t for you.

If you’ve read this far, though, I highly doubt this is the case. Roll on June.

About Derrick Lynch

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