Thursday, March 15, 2007

U21 Football Championship: Sometimes the solution isnt staring you in the face!

U21 Football Championship: Sometimes the solution isnt staring you in the face!

As the final bucket seats were screwed into Hill 16 this week in preparation for the impending arrival of soccer to our hallowed turf, Croke Park played host to the launch of the Cadbury U21 Football Championship. Usually these launches are really about ticking the boxes for the corporate sponsors communications requirements, a couple of goodwill quotes, one or two nice photos and bobs your uncle.

Monday was different. For the first time since its establishment in the early forties the Under 21 Grade finds itself under attack from elements of its founding organisation. Much has been said about the new GAA Player Welfare Officer, Paraic Duffy's comments around the potential scrapping of the Under 21 grade. In his role as part of an executive committee to examine the issues of player burnout, this option will I have no doubt be discussed. This week however - the fight back began

Lets get one thing straight from the off. Paraic Duffy as Player Welfare Officer has a very important role in the protecting and nurturing of our many many Footballers and Hurlers. I admire his previous contribution to Gaelic Games and I have no doubt that he will ultimately prove a resounding success in his new role. That said over the last number of weeks a kind of tabloidesque approach seems to have been adopted in relation to the future of the U21 Grade with the media been given sensationalist headlines at every turn.

What exactly are we taking about, for those of you who have not been reading the papers. In a nutshell the GAA has established a special committee to review the issue of player burnout and this committee will go back to HQ with its proposals in time for Congress. However as mentioned in the paragraph above, this committees role has become eschewed into something of Judge, Jury and Executioner for the Under 21 grade. This is quite simply not the answer.

Anyone who has ever played football to a reasonable level will remember the 17-21 years with fond memories. It is a hectic time, with lots of football and plenty of managers. Player burnout is without doubt a contributory factor to injuries and also probably to some players losing the faith and turning to the social life. But players are by their nature competitors and any competitor will tell you that what they enjoy are the matches. The proposed solution of ending the U21 grade is a bit like cutting off an arm to cure a cold. No player in his right mind will thank you for reducing the number of intercounty matches he gets to play, let alone in a grade of football which is widely acknowledged as been the most honest and the most pure.

The issue is over training, its the endless nights on a training pitch, gym or even stuck in a car on the way to these places that cause player fatigue both physically and mentally. This is not a new concept, the GPA has been floating the idea of an elite training programme for players who are caught by the demands of 5 and 6 teams, Ray Silke and Martin Carney have both spoken on the Last Word about the need for greater communication between managers to moderate the training demands on players. Somewhere in the mix of all this the solution rests.

Few journalists have as of yet taken the courageous step in voicing their own opinion. Martin Brehany to his credit has gone on the record, stating his column will do its utmost to support the Under21 grade. The launch of the Cadbury U21 Football Championship was more then a pr event, it was the laying down of a marker. Keith Higgins and Dermot Earley both spoken with passion about the U21 Football Championship, detailing what it means to them - none more so then Keith who as a Mayo man had the honour of bridging that grand canyonesque gap and bringing All Ireland glory in 2006. Cadbury too have to be commended. Their continued support for the Championship has done much to raise awareness of the grade not only among GAA brethren but also among the public at large. Sponsors are often criticised for looking for mentions in coverage, but Cadbury should be lauded - their sponsorship includes University Scholarships Schemes and Player Awards demonstrating a real investment in the game and its players.

Yesterday the message was clear, the Cadbury U21 Football Championship is alive and well........the solution must be sought elsewhere.

The task facing Paraic Duffy and the executive committee is not a simple one, they must look beyond the quick fix, dramatic solution to the issue of player burnout. Instead the must be brave and tackle the awkward situation of getting managers and trainers to begin putting the greater good of the player ahead of their own immediate interests. It is not an easy task by any matter and I wish them well with it. I have no doubt that the solution is there and it will take the sort of strong leadership that only Croke Park can provide that will address this issue of player burnout.

An Smuigin

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Derval Finally Recognised!

Finally, sense has prevailed. After been snubbed at the RTE's 'prestigious' Sports Personality of the Year Awards, Derval O'Rourke received the recognition her achievements merited when she was announced the Irish Times Vhi Healthcare Sportswoman of the Year 2006.

What's more after reviewing the competition I have now come to the conclusion that 2006 was probably the greatest ever year for Irish women in sport. Not only did we have Derval's great achievements (listed below) but 2006 was also the year of Katie Taylors emergence as a World star, Briege Corkery's Cork teams did the DOUBLE DOUBLE in Football and camogie, Madeline Perry reached 6th in the World in squash and Joanne Cuddihy stock began to rise!

Derval won the Award for her outstanding achievements during 2006. The highpoints of a memorable twelve months included Derval winning the World Indoor Gold 60m hurdles in Moscow, breaking her own Irish indoor record in the process. A feat repeated six times during the season with her record now standing at 7.84 seconds.

She followed up her brilliant indoor season with more success outdoors during the summer as she won a silver medal in the 100m hurdles at the European Championships in Gothenburg. She also broke more personal records outdoors in the 100m hurdles and was part of the Irish women’s 100m relay team that set a new Irish women’s record in Gothenburg.

There is talk now that Derval wont compete indoors this season in anticipation ofthe main outdoor competitions ahead.

Congratulating Derval and each of the monthly nominees, Minister Hanafin said, "Today we honour Irish Sportswomen who are national and international heroes and who have represented us proudly in the international arena and will no doubt be an inspiration to young girls around the country. The Irish Times Vhi Healthcare Sportswoman of the Year Award highlights the calibre of Irish sportswomen and their success in a range of sporting activity from athletics to camogie from boxing to golf."

A native of Cork, now residing in Dublin, Derval was selected by the judging panel from a list of thirteen* monthly nominees, who were also honoured at the Awards ceremony today.

Commenting on the announcement, Greg Allen, Chairperson for the judging panel, said, "While Derval’s success was unquestionably the performance of the year in women’s sport, it was also, for many people, the greatest achievement through all Irish sport in 2006 in a period of conspicuously high performance levels in a wide variety of sports."

The Irish Times Vhi Healthcare Sportswoman of the Year Award is the first award of its kind in Ireland and is aimed specifically at women in sport, recognising their achievements and creating greater awareness of their sports.

Commenting on the Awards, Vincent Sheridan, Chief Executive, Vhi Healthcare said, "This year's award winners continue the trend of Irish women sports stars competing at the highest level on both the national and international stage. They are rightly being acknowledged for the huge contribution they make to Irish society and the vital function they serve as outstanding role models to younger generations of aspiring sportswomen."

The Award was launched in 2004, with each nominee a monthly winner selected by a panel of three independent judges.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Irish Sportswomen Set for Big Stage

The cream of the crop of Irish sportswomen are set to be honoured and the overall winner announced at The Irish Times Vhi Healthcare Sportswoman of the Year Awards which takes place on Friday 12th January at the Westin Hotel, Dublin.

The Award, which is the first of its kind in Ireland, is aimed specifically at women in sport, recognising their achievements and creating greater awareness of their sports.

This year’s nominees are some of the very best competitors Irish sport has to offer, covering a wide variety of disciplines including, boxing, athletics, golf, rowing and squash.

Malachy Logan, Sports Editor of The Irish Times, said: ''It's quite remarkable how quickly these awards have become the standard bearer for Irish sportswomen. The depth and quality of achievement by all the monthly award winners speaks volumes for the strides women's sport has made in recent years.

This year's award winners are really an exceptional and diverse group of athletes. They are rightly being acknowledged for the huge contribution they make to Irish society and the vital function they serve as outstanding role models for both girls and boys who want to follow in their footsteps.''

Commenting on this years nominees, Vincent Sheridan, Chief Executive, Vhi Healthcare said; "National recognition is a tribute hard earned, and each of our thirteen nominees have travelled the hard road required to achieve the type of sporting excellence exemplified in this years nominees.

Sheridan continued, "Vhi Healthcare would like to take this opportunity to applaud each of the nominees and wish them the best of luck for 2007 in their various sporting fields. They each play a pivotal role for the younger generations of aspiring sportswomen who in turn may one day be recognised like their heroes."

The Award was launched in 2004, with each nominee a monthly award winner selected by a panel of three independent judges. This year sees thirteen nominees put forward for the National Award as rowers Sinéad Jennings and Niamh Ni Cheilleachair were both selected for the Sportswoman Award for June. The list also contains the 2005 Sportswoman of the Year Briege Corkery.

The 2006 Irish Times Vhi Healthcare Sportswoman of the Year nominees are as follows:

Jessica Kürten Equestrian January

Derval O’Rourke Athletics February

Madeline Perry Squash March

Nina Carberry Horse Racing April

Fiona Connery Hockey May

Sinéad Jennings &

Niamh Ní Cheilleachair Rowing June

Joanne Cuddihy Athletics July

Kelly Liggan Tennis August

Briege Corkery Camogie & September

Gaelic Football

Katie Taylor Boxing October

Claire Coughlan Golf November

* December winner yet to be announced.

The 2006 Irish Times Vhi Healthcare Sportswoman of the Year will be announced on Friday 12th January by Minister for Education and Science Mary Hanafin T.D. at the Awards ceremony hosted by Des Cahill of RTE in the Westin Hotel Dublin 2.