An opportunity not to be missed

This week brought back to me some of the words of Tommy Tiernan in his very first ‘Live’ DVD. He argued that us Irish, “we’re just as interested in taking over the world. We don’t do it by invading though – we do it by infesting.” As with most comedy, the humour is often found in the deep truth behind it. Unfortunately though, Irish ‘invasion’ for many years and consequent ‘infesting’ as he called it, has been the product of a forced emigration from a country that can’t provide enough for the people that love it.

But what if our invasion became more sustained, more organised and more purposeful? What if the recently announced GAA – Sky Sports deal suddenly presented a golden opportunity for us to invade the wider sporting world and more specifically, that of our good neighbours in Britain?

As a primary school teacher in England, I am becoming aware of the various sporting interests of young English children. In the school I teach in, Sachin Tendulkar is their Henry Shefflin or Colm Cooper; Wayne Rooney couldn’t tie his batting pads. Football is the game for the autumn term when the weather is unpredictable, rugby for spring when it’s just plain miserable and cricket is for the summer, when the real sport can be enjoyed in sunshine. In between, there are dabblings in athletics, swimming, hockey and basketball. Naturally, they have never heard of Gaelic Games but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t fascinated by the possibility of trying them. I recently organised a Long Puck competition for a charities week; it was over-subscribed every day.

As part of my job, I am expected to run an extra-curricular club every week. With the encouragement of the Head of Sport in the school, I will be running a Gaelic football club in the summer term for Year 4s (3rd class equivalent). Out of a total of 35 pupils, the vast majority from highly-affluent Asian families, I already have 15 signed up! But how did I promote a game that none of them had ever heard of or even seen played? YouTube.

The GAA, to their credit, have started making use of YouTube as a medium for communicating their games. After watching ‘Top 5 Goals GAA football’ and ‘Top 5 Points GAA football’ 2012 & 2013, there was an obvious sense that this was a game worth trying – this game looked really exciting! Of course, in the consciousness of young people today, YouTube gives a subject legitimacy in a way that RTE Player could not have done. In any case, there was no resources available on RTE Player when I needed them. Sky Sports can give our games this legitimacy as it is firmly ingrained in the minds of all sports fans, young and old. In June and July, I will now be able to point to live games that my new young charges can actually watch in their own homes on a channel that they are absolutely familiar with. In today’s world of high media exposure, branding is everything.

According to the Sport England Active People Survey (October 2012-October 2013) that measured the ‘once a week participation in funded sports by people aged 14 years and over’, the top sports in England were swimming, football, athletics and cycling. Each of these sports had over 2 million participants (swimming actually had more than 3 million). No other sport came close to these. Rugby Union came in 12th (with less than 250,000 participants) and is the only field sport other than football in the top 12.

But why can’t Gaelic football make a serious impression on these results? According to the GAA Britain website, there are just over 80 GAA clubs in England alone, 30 of which are in London. That is a fantastic platform from which to build a coherent and vibrant level of participation in under-age Gaelic football. Why could Gaelic football not become the second-most played field sport in England?

Rugby is often seen as the preserve of the middle-classes in the UK and so seen by many as ‘inaccessible’. In my own school, it is the physical nature of rugby that is the big turn-off. Ironically, Sky Sports and other media don’t help in this manner, as the slow motion replays that are now possible tell of the crushing reality of a full frontal by a 16 stone second row! Gaelic football, for all it’s manliness and hard-hitting, doesn’t have the same visual impact. And what’s more, with the introduction of the black card, Gaelic football has returned to being a free-flowing exciting game full of goals and much less devoid of cynicism. My new charges will hopefully never know of the miserable rot of an 0-11 to 0-12 war of attrition, with 70+ frees, 6 yellow cards and a red. Could it not be argued that Gaelic football has the potential to be the second most marketable field game throughout the UK?

The coincidence of so many important events occurring together cannot be ignored. A historic deal between Sky Sports and the GAA to make our games mainstream throughout the UK and the world; a  historic first state visit by an Irish President to the UK, that speaks of tolerance, friendship and collaboration; all coming at the tail end of the most exciting National Football League in recent memory – the moment is primed for the GAA to make a move here. Like many Irish people, I don’t buy the line of looking after the Diaspora with this deal – the Diaspora have always made it their business to see a game, even if it means getting up in the middle of the night to watch it on a poor Internet connection. But this Sky deal has the potential to be hugely positive in a far more meaningful way. The GAA has spoken about using this deal to show off and market our games to the world and our games are definitely something to be proud of. But what then? What happens when a young boy or girl in Newcastle watches a game just as spell-binding as Kerry v Dublin last year and says to their parent, ‘I want to play that game, where’s the nearest club?

The GAA cannot expect the current structures in Britain and London to deal with a possible influx of interest on a reactive basis. Why not be proactive? Why not start an initiative to get young Irish coaches into schools throughout London, England and the UK? Our teacher training colleges are spewing out hundreds of excellent, enthusiastic teachers every year with no jobs to follow-up. I’m sure many of these people would jump at the opportunity to spend a year coaching a game they love as a visiting teacher. Growing up in North Tipperary in the 80s and early 90s, football was not a game to be played; hurling was the code. But the North Tipperary juvenile board promoted football extensively, sending coaches into schools on a regular basis. In a club that knew nothing about football, suddenly there was potential and success. The only medal I brought to London with me was the county minor football medal I won with my club Borris-Ileigh in 2000.

If you have ever watched the excellent documentary on RTE, Féile Dreams, this gives a glimpse of the possibilities of promoting Gaelic football in schools. This follows the fortunes of the South London U’14 football team that won the Féile (Division 4) last summer in Derry but also looks at the way Gaelic football is promoted in St Paul’s Academy in South London, who work in partnership with Dulwich Harps GFC. Here is template that can be replicated with the proper influence from the GAA centrally.

Many people will say, ‘What’s the point? Sure that’s our game. We don’t need anyone else playing it.’ This is totally at odds with what Michael D Higgins and the Queen spoke about this week about “shedding our inhibitions about seeing the best in each other”. Gaelic football and hurling will always be our games and we can always incredibly proud of them as our crown jewels. If in 20 years time however, there is thriving level of participation among 14-25 year old in the UK and possibly even an international element to under-age competition, then surely the powers that be have done our games and us a huge service as a nation.

For now, I will stay dreaming of my Coach Bombay moment, when my young novices become a footballing machine in the space of three months. But seriously, I have no doubt about the impact that Sky Sports can make in promoting our games – there’s an opportunity here not to be missed. So let’s allow them to help us invade Britain – as Tommy said, ‘it’s a different plan of attack’.



Winning vs Development?

Really enjoyed this blog. Key point: “Winning matters. But development matters more.” Due to the parochialism of our games, the focus on winning can be even more poisonous – beating the local rivals can make or break the season; losing can be like a parish funeral. But this horrible atmosphere at juvenile GAA matches must be hugely counter-productive in terms of fun and development. As the author says, “kids generally forget about results soon after the game is over” but are they allowed to, by their parents, coaches, teachers and the local community?
This article is well worth consideration by all GAA coaches involved with underage teams.

The Coaching Journey


It’s become a taboo word, not just in soccer but in all youth sports. Most recently the debate has become an issue of coaches choosing winning or development, as if they are mutually exclusive. Coaches who develop players the right way don’t have to choose either or because winning and development go hand in hand, but first you will have to understand what “winning” truly means.

The idea we face today that winning doesn’t matter, only development, stems from the extreme “win at all costs” mentality that many involved with any youth sport promote. Because of that extreme, the polar opposite has arisen where we tell our players that winning doesn’t matter, and here is our ultimate issue.

Winning matters. But development matters more.

Let’s understand that. They both matter. There’s a score at the end of the game, there is generally a “winning” team and a “losing” team…

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Is Your Child’s Stick Too Long?

I know nothing about ice-hockey but I know there is definitely a lesson to be learned in the article below for hurling coaches.
I recently started helping to coach under-8 players at a London hurling club and it’s plain to see how some young players have already started on the wrong path by using a hurley that is anything from 2 to 6 inches too long for them. The hip-rule, that almost everyone born in the last century understood to be the cardinal rule of hurley length, should be wiped from memory. Unfortunately, far too many coaches of today’s youngsters grew up adhering to this rule themselves and so the mistake is perpetuated.
The skills of hurling, as it is played today, cannot be performed at anything close to full proficiency, with a hurley that stands level with a players hip bone. I am a far from proficient player but if I was to adhere to this ‘rule’ then I would be using something close to a 40 inch hurley. I may as well be swinging a length of scaffold.
If the coaches of a young player does nothing else but take the too-long stick from them (even if it does have a shiny new Karakal grip with a county player finish) and force them to use a stick of appropriate length, then they will be doing them a massive favour. If the coach needs to give proof to their young charges, then why not invite some of the local adult players (or better yet, county players) to show the kids how far up their leg the stick only needs to go.
But as the author says, there are always anomalies and players with longer sticks are out there. But the ones that play county and win Allstars are as rare as hen’s teeth.

Michael Boyle's Blog

Here’s a great post from Coach Peter Russo about stick length. I’m a hockey parent like many of you but, never played. I know nothing about lie, flex, or proper stick length. Read this you might know less than you think.

Is Your Child’s Stick Too Long?

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Stacking a Team?

Wise words for all coaches.

Michael Boyle's Blog

Parents always fall into this trap. I love the U14 dads who are trying to stack a team to win the U14 Nationals. Guess what, that may be the wrong approach if your goal is for your child to advance to the highest level.

Jamie Rice, Head Coach at Babson College had a great point

“If they’re competitive, they’ve probably had adversity. That resilience, that elasticity is really important. That gets back to growth. We want kids who are winners not because they played for quote-unquote winning teams. They’re winners because they’ve pushed themselves, they’ve challenged themselves and they’ve overcome something. They’ve lost and then they’ve won.”

Being on the team that never loses is bad for kids. Losing is good. It builds character. It creates resilience. It creates drive. I have never sought out strong teams for my kids. What I do want is for them to play in…

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Will My Kid Fall Behind Without Playing Summer Hockey?

Again, essential reading with a very simple message.
From a GAA perspective, whenever the author mentions ‘hockey’, just substitute in ‘hurling’, ‘Gaelic football’ or ‘camogie’. And whenever they mention ‘summer’, just think of ‘winter’.

Regarding multi-sport participation, in fairness to many GAA clubs who offer both hurling and Gaelic football to underage players, they are often pulling from the same pool of players to participate in both sports and so these young players are benefitting from “diverse movement patterns, varied skill sets and a cognitive understanding of game sense” that are by-products of a multi-disciplinary experience. However, this does not mean that every GAA club should offer both codes. When in Rome, do as the Romans do – in many GAA clubs throughout Ireland there is neither the tradition nor interest to sustain a proper coaching structure of the less popular code in a given parish and so there is little benefit in a club wasting its resources for the sake of pushing the ‘games promotion’ agenda. But that is a different debate altogether!

Michael Boyle's Blog


Q: Will my kid fall behind without playing spring and summer hockey?
A: Likely not, and more importantly, your child will enjoy greater success in the long run if they avoid playing year-round hockey now.
Even NHL players and Olympians take extended time away from the ice in the summer. It’s an essential component of their recovery, development and maintenance of high-level play. For children, that time away from hockey is even more important. Year-round hockey programming harms young skaters emotionally, physically and athletically, yet, many parents and coaches claim that early specialization is necessary to become an elite hockey player. It’s simply not true. USA Hockey, the United States Olympic Committee, countless high-level coaches and numerous physiologists will tell you that early specialization actually limits and damages prospective hockey players, reducing their chances of becoming the…

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A Former NHLer’s Take on Youth Hockey

It would be no harm for many parents and coaches up and down the GAA pitches of Ireland to take a read of this, print it out, stick it on the fridge door and take heed. There are countless anecdotal examples of young GAA players being put through the misery and humiliation of demanding parents who not only feel they can tell a coach what to do but also feel that any and every Mickey Mouse tournament match is a win-at-all costs event. However it’s not just parents – too large a number of coaches could do well to take a long hard look at their own priorities when taking young people under their wing. Essential reading with a simple message.

Michael Boyle's Blog

Former NHL star Ray Ferraro was asked to talk to parents of a  club that was going through a tough time, with parent expectations at an all-time high.

This is what Ferraro told the parents.

– Minor hockey is out of control in terms of Parents chasing the dream for their kids instead of kids deciding on their own how passionate they are for it and how bad they want it.

– In the last 10 years only 21 kids who either played at NSWC or BWC have appeared in at least ONE NHL regular season game. Point is if your banking on your son collecting an NHL pay cheque to solidify his and yours financial future you seriously need to stop and come up with a new plan and now.

– The odds of going pro are extremely low but the odds of having to find a career and…

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Become a Better Player by Not Playing!

Really interesting article here. Lots to ponder for coaches of young hurlers and Gaelic footballers.

Michael Boyle's Blog

Confusing headline? I hope it makes you read this.

Athletes Are Made In the Off-Season

If your child is a hockey player from 6-15 PLEASE don’t sign them up for spring and summer leagues! The only people who need spring and summer leagues are rink operators and league operators. ALL THE EVIDENCE SAYS NO.

Athletes Are Made In the Off_Season

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London GAA needs to be treated a little differently

This is an updated version of a blog that first appeared on Craic-It London in December 2014.

Last Sunday, Kilburn Gaels made history for themselves, competing in their first All-Ireland club Intermediate Hurling Semi-Final. Only one London club has ever won this relatively new competition – it began in 2005 and the Robert Emmetts club won it in 2007. Unfortunately, the final chapter of this particular history was not to be written by the North West Londoners as they went down valiantly to O’ Donovan Rossa of Belfast. Kilburn, like the Emmetts and almost every other London GAA club, have no clubhouse or pitch to call their own. They train on the playing fields of St. Aloysius’ College in Highgate and have their meetings in the lounge of Tony’s Bar on Willesden High Road, about a mile and a half from The Crown Hotel on Cricklewood Broadway. Like all GAA clubs, they are built on the enthusiasm and determination of their members, many of whom have taken up the baton of leadership and organisation long after their own playing days have finished or they even balance both. All GAA clubs face challenges to their survival or improvement. Financial worries immediately spring to mind but the loss of quality people, both players and administrators, to retirement, injury, illness, emigration, disillusionment or demotivation can be crippling for any club. However, London clubs and players have to deal with a whole extra set of barriers to progress and the lack of club-owned space and playing fields is just one of them.
Almost exactly one year ago, the GAA announced a €5m redevelopment of the home of London GAA at Ruislip and Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael Liam Ó Néill stated that he hoped “the excellent new facility (would) play a central role in the ongoing growth and development of our games in the British capital”. There is no doubt that this infrastructure investment is very welcome and that it will be an immense source of pride for all GAA people in London but there are other ways that the GAA can help London clubs to grow and develop so that they can continue to promote and celebrate our games. One of the problems faced by London GAA teams is the one-size-fits-all enforcement of the so-called “Seanie Johnston rule”. Back in April 2012, Central Council approved this rule which states than any player seeking to switch from one county to play with another county side must first play in the club championship of the county he is seeking to join. This had immediate repercussions for the London footballers who were set to lose 12 players for their opening match against Leitrim unless the clubs agreed to play a round of championship matches, which they did and the crisis was averted. However, this was a most unfair position to put clubs in and they have continued to be put in this position for the past three seasons. At the time, the London footballers issued a very angry statement where they argued that “the new rule doesn’t promote Gaelic games overseas, one of the main aims of the association, and is therefore intrinsically wrong.” They asked that “the GAA use their common sense in having a deviation of the motion for London” but to date this has not happened. In the New Year, much earlier than the clubs would like, the first round of both the senior hurling and football club championships will be played in order to accommodate any new arrivals to the city who wish to play on the county team. The clubs, to their credit, have gotten on with it over the past few years but this is a position they shouldn’t have to be put in. There is the argument that it actually benefits the clubs because it locks in a top player’s loyalty to that club for the entire season whereas before, a player could very easily decide to continue playing with their home club again once the county team was knocked out. But this is missing the point, which is that London is a special case and needs to be treated differently by the GAA. In 2013, the GAA brought in a ban on teams travelling abroad more than 13 days prior to their opening Championship match. Of course, this prevented London from being able to prepare as well as they would have liked as London teams simply have to go ‘abroad’ for challenge matches. Here was a perfect example of a situation where London could have been granted an exception but were not. The GAA received much criticism for their decision to give broadcasting rights to Sky last April but they countered that one of their chief reasons for making this decision was the promotion of the games overseas. As noble as this sounds, it rings hollow when you consider the lack of flexibility afforded to London on these very simple issues.