Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ulster Uncovered!

Ulster football - like its people - has never dawdled in the blandness of the middle ground...

Love 'em or hate 'em, the teams from the six counties have enjoyed astonishing success over the recent years. Such as been the impact of teams like Tyrone and Armagh, an image has been fostered of the Northern Teams, as groups of men, who strive the extra 20% more then the rest of us, because it means more to them!

Everyone has heard the stories of the John Morrisson-inspired Armagh Knights and the rousing rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann by the Tyrone team as they encircled Sam in the dressing room after their historic breakthrough. These all helped build the notion of Ulster commitment, a notion that drove certain men in Kerry to re-think their philosophy on football if not on life itself!

In recent weeks, RTÉ has done its bit to open the door, if only slightly ajar into the world of Ulster football. Scéal Ó Thuaidh is a six-part series on RTÉ Two charting the incredible and at times highly controversial rise of Ulster counties in the GAA. The central focus is on the achievements of Tyrone and Armagh and the astonishing success enjoyed by the province in recent years.

Most interesting of all, the programme gives unprecedented access to young GAA scholarship students at the Sport Institute of Northern Ireland at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown. Scéal O Thuaidh accompanies the students as they are trained and conditioned at SINI in preparation for making it to their Senior County Team Level. This unique institution is first of its kind and offers support training for all professional and amateur athletes, which has produced huge benefits. With a seemingly never ending production line of talented underage teams, the documentary gives a glimpse of the lengths that the teams in Ulster are going to, in order to ensure future success.

To date, forty-four players have come through the SINI system and thirty-four have graduated to the Senior Ranks. This system is supported by the Residential Camps and the Youth Games which are part of the talent identification system. Coaches have engaged with change, and now nutrition, performance analysis, sports psychology, sports science and medicine and recovery and rehabilitation are all part of the preparation of Ulster’s elite Gaelic footballers.

All of this is done, to the backdrop of such living legends as Kieran McGeeney and Peter Canavan; the two programmes so far have focused on these two players, their attention to detail, their preparations and motivations. With McGeeney, in particular, you get the impression of a man who has dedicated his life to achieve everything his body will allow him to give and more besides. It is the McGeeney model that Ulster are now looking to impress upon their young players, perhaps an unattainable condition, but certainly a player with three quarters of McGeeney's ambition, condition and skill is one good enough to grace most county teams.

So where does this leave the rest of the country? Tactics aside, with Ulster having already adopted a virtually professional ethos from the bottom up at intercounty level, the onus is now on the rest of country to follow suit. With rugby, soccer and the rest a more likely distraction in some counties compared to others, the perils in a skills and condition gap being created are great. For the second time in a decade the counties from the Republic may be forced to take yet another page from the Northern syllabus.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

All Star Nominations - A JOKE!

You know Xmas is only around the corner when we start talking All Star nominations! Every year there is massive debate, every year the list is dominated by the teams that made the All Ireland Final...which begs the question, do these people who create this list actually go to football matches round the country or do they simply watch RTE during August and September!!!

Overall there are 13 counties represented on the list from which this year's final All Stars selection will be made at the end of next month. 13 is great, and I was delighted to see some Longford lads included, but why are so many other great inter-county players left out each year....

It reminds me of the line you often hear about Kevin Nolan, that he would def be in the England squad if he played for a top four team in the premiership. Well this years nominations:

All-Ireland champions Kerry lead the way in this year's Vodafone football All Stars nominations list with nine players.

Dublin are the next most recognised county with eight and All-Ireland finalists Mayo come in with six names.

Munster and Ulster champions Cork and Armagh are next with five representatives and as I said earlier, Longford's good run in the qualifiers is reflected in the choice of two of their players, Paul Barden and Brian Kavanagh.

None of last year's All-Ireland champions have been included, a reflection of the troubled and injury-blighted season that Tyrone endured in 2006.

The county breakdown is Kerry (nine), Dublin (eight), Mayo (six), Armagh (five), Cork (five), Donegal (two), Laois (two), Offaly (two), Longford (two), Westmeath (one), Fermanagh (one), Galway (one), Derry (one).

But let us be honest, An All Star nomination should be for a player who has represented his county to the peak of his ability - doing heroric things, and pushing his team to victory....

Eight from the Dublin team...GIVE ME A BREAK...what a joke....where are the players from Leitrim, Waterford, Limerick, Down, Derry, Carlow...I could keep going, there is def one player from each county who shone brigthly this summer, surely they deserved to be recognised ahead of some of the passangers that got in on the coat tails of their team mates.