The Great Dual Robbery
“I can run no more with that lawless crowd,while the killers in high places say their prayers out loud”The Tipperary underage football bandwagon had to be stopped. Despite muttering all the right words in public, privately some people in high places were determined to derail the train. These people refer to the 2016 All Ireland Minor Hurling win like it was the second coming of Christ while referring to the loses in the 2015 minor football and hurling finals as if a plague had being released on all our houses. They claim that one of the main reasons for the 2016 minor win was the ban on players playing multiple sports but the reality of the situation was there was no such ban. It was just a ban on Gaelic footballers not soccer players. 2016 was a great win. On that we all agree. But it was no better or no worse than the 2012 win under Willie Maher who had 8 dual players on his panel, the 2011 AI Minor Football win under David Power who had 4 dual players on his panel or the 2007 win under Declan Ryan who also had 4 dual players on his panel or the 2006 win under Liam Sheedy who had no dual players.
Some day Tipperary Gaa will embrace the concept that underage sport is about development and not winning. Dublin County Board have taken that approach and despite only winning one All Ireland Minor Football in 37 years (they have won 2 minor All Ireland Hurling Titles in that time) they aren’t faring too badly at senior football level. There is no “perfect offering” here and we can all point out the unicorns. For every Tiger Woods who specialised at an early age, there’s 10 Tom Brady’s who played multiple sports to the age of 18. (Brady was a baseball draft before he was a football draft)But if we insist on taking winning underage titles as the be all and end all then history shows us that you can win All Ireland’s just as well with dual players as you can without them but so far only Liam Sheedy has actually managed to win one without them. Shane Brophy did an interesting article in The Nenagh Guardian a few weeks ago where he looked at every player that played county minor between 2010 and 2015. In those 6 years, 11% of players who played single code only went on to play senior for Tipperary while 58% of players who played dual hurling and football at minor level went on to play senior for Tipperary.Based on the stats, (58% dual players making it to senior as opposed to 11% single code players that made it to senior) Shane Brophy concluded, as his headline stated, “Dual minors have a better chance of progressing to senior level with Tipperary”.
On the Premierview Podcast a few weeks back, the excellent Damien Young reckoned that Brophy’s time frame of just looking at minors between 2010 and 2015 was too short to draw any conclusive conclusions. He may well be right although I suspect that an extension of the time frame would lead to an increase in the 58% of dual players progressing to senior. He also says that you can’t specialise in two sports but these days the sports science pendulum is swinging away from early specialisation and if the past 12 months has thought is anything it is that we should always follow the science. Too many people insist on looking at a monstrously complex issue such as early specialisation through a lens that is way too simple.
However there is one simple truth that all sports scientists will agree on and it is that any coach or official who tells your child that they have to pick just one sport, doesn’t have the best interest of your child at heart. On the flip side any coach who tells your child that he has to play multiple sports also doesn’t have the best interest of your child at heart. We have got to get away from the “one solution for every player” policy. No two teenagers are the same in mental or physical development.
Currently in Tipperary we are asking kids to specialise in one code at 13 and 14 years of age. Three years earlier these same kids were writing letters to Santa and now we are asking them to make a decision on what sport they want to specialise it. The perceived 4 most talented players are allowed to continue to play dual but the rest of the players that might want to play both codes are prohibited from doing so. Of course the number 4 is totally arbitrary and based on nothing other than a whim of a committee. It’s time we addressed the gorilla in the corner called talent!All managers are looking for 100% access to the talented players and in Tipperary we have now created a league table on talent. However, even the famous little man from Mars knows that the best 14 year old player on a team may not be the best player on that team at 15 or 16 years of age. Our young players future is now at the mercy of the u14 county management teams (whose only qualification might be that they passed the Garda vetting process) who are asked to rate their panel of 40 players from 1 to 40. It’s unfair on the players and it’s unfair on the management teams.
County Development Squads train just once a week for 3 to 4 months of the year. It’s not as if they are training 3 nights a week in Dr Morris Park. Telling them their best chance of playing for Tipperary in the future is to ‘specialise’ is simply filling their heads with false dreams. 89% of them won’t. Telling them that playing multiple sports is the way to go is also filling their heads with false dreams. 42% of them won’t.Their natural talent and attitude will dictate whether they play senior inter-county far more than 14 hours training a year with development squads. When selecting a senior team, the county senior manager couldn’t care less what sports you played at 15 and 16 years of age.
If a child wants to specialise in a single sport then we need to respect his decision and create the training environment that guards against the negative effects of specialisation such as overuse injuries and burnout which are the two most common effects of specialisation. Likewise, if a child wants to play dual codes then we also need to respect his choice and create the training environment that guards against the negative effects of playing multiple sports, the most obvious being ‘training load’ but we have qualified physiotherapists and S&C people to help with this. If we can reduce and remove the negative effects then whichever path the child decides he wants to take should be a safe and healthy one. Communication between management teams would be a good start in this regard.
Last year, both the minor hurling and football teams were asked to play championship on the same day. This year’s minor hurling manager James Woodlock stated that because of the fixtures schedule he couldn’t have any dual players. It was a fair and reasonable stance from James. Obviously players can’t play two games on the same day or even 24 or 48 hours apart. However, if the fixtures calendar did allow it and with it looking increasingly likely that the minor grade (u17) will be moved back to development rather than championship grade, then not allowing our children the autonomy to decide what sport or sports the want to pursue is doing them a serious disservice. Tipperary Gaa need to start listening to the children of Tipperary and stop dictating them. The children and indeed Tipperary Gaa will both benefit from that approach in the long run.