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Offaly goalkeeper defends inter-county development squads after criticism from Colm O'Rourke

Alan Mulhall works as North Leinster Games Manager by day.

OFFALY GOALKEEPER ALAN Mulhall has defended the role county development squads play in producing young players in the wake of criticism from pundit Colm O’Rourke.

Alan Mulhall dejected Source: James Crombie/INPHO

In a Sunday Independent column published in November, O’Rourke said that elite squads at underage level in most counties are a “complete waste of money and time.”

The Simonstown Gaels manager wrote: “On the basis that few county minors actually graduate to the senior team then the numbers who make it from younger age groups will be far fewer.

“So the argument could be made that trying to pick small numbers in younger age groups for specialist training and matches may actually be doing more harm than good.

“There is the real danger that some of these young men think they are very important and don’t see that their clubs are where they should be doing most of their development.”

He added: “The emphasis is on winning, not participation or player development.”

But Mulhall, who works as North Leinster Games Manager, disagrees with O’Rourke’s view that inter-county underage structures are not working.

Colm O’Rourke Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

The Walsh Island clubman operated as Games Manager with Offaly county board for over four years before he took up his current role with Leinster GAA. He runs the rule over Louth, Meath, Kildare, Longford and Westmeath, which includes work in schools.

“The way I’d look at that is, what Colm actually said is what’s going on in a lot of counties,” Mulhall said.

“I’m just talking about the five counties I know - they’re bringing in 60 or 70 lads to train at U14 level, they’re keeping maybe 50 to train at U15 level and at U16 you still have 40 or 45.

“When you look at it there’s not a huge amount of other lads left. We’re trying to do it on a two-pronged approach that the lads in the clubs are getting a good standard of coaching and then the better players – we’re trying to challenge them as well.

“We have to challenge them so they’re able to get through and play adult football level at a high level. There’s no county anymore handpicking 20 or 22 lads at U14 and saying, You are going to be Offaly or Meath team at 23 or 24 years of age. Lads are keeping the base really wide and open.

“We’re trying to put them on the rocky road where they’re getting knocks and getting put up in age groups so they’re playing at a higher level. And they’re getting those challenges and you’re trying to create a more rounded player when you do get through for club and county.”

Some critics have stated that elite underage squads do too much weight training and taking up too much time out of the week for youngsters, but Mulhall says they are getting the balance right.

“We’re working on a programme for our development squads that’s trying to make sure they’re doing the right things,” he stated.

“That it’s not getting carried away in a different direction of strength and conditioning or stuff like that. We’re trying to make sure they’re doing the right kind of stuff for age appropriate activity.

Bord na Móna Leinster GAA Series Launch Mulhall was at the Bord na Móna Leinster GAA Series Launch at Bord na Móna O'Connor Park ealrier this month. Source: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

“We’re trying to get out to the clubs as much as possible so the schools and development squads are a small facet of it. The amount of stuff we’re doing to organise clubs, everything is focused on age appropriate activity and being able to deliver the right thing to the kids at the right time and getting as many kids playing as possible.

“We’d be very strong on it that we only want our development squads training once a week. The very odd time they might have training once a week and then a match a second time, but we’d be trying to say to counties to keep one day a week free so they can train with development squads and that’s it. Everything else is club.”

On the field, Offaly open their O’Bryne Cup campaign against Wexford at Bord na Mona O’Connor Park at 2pm today, before they take on Dublin in Parnell Park on Wednesday night.

Mulhall, who first joined the Faithful senior squad in 2002, is enjoying working under new manager Stephen Wallace and his goalkeeping coach, former Kerry All-Star Brendan Kealy.

Brendan Kealy Former Kerry goalkeeper Brendan Kealy Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“He’s very vibrant, very energetic and really mad for progress in a very professional set-up,” Mulhall said of Wallace.

“There’s a good Kerry influence. There’s Stephen, then there’s Billy (Sheehan) and we’ve Brendan Kealy doing the goalkeeping coaching with us so there’s a big influence.

“Everything we do with Brendan is very game specific. Even goalkeeping fitness work is game specific as well. It’s all Gaelic football orientated everytime so it’s really good stuff.

“He’s only six months out of inter-county football. Everything he’s doing he has a focus to it. He’s working towards what he wants to see during the summer and the league.

“They all have different opinions when they come in and they all have different opinions throughout the year. You get used to a way that a manager wants you kicking out a ball or talking to defenders, and then you just have to change. It’s the way you just have to be. You have to be continuously changing to keeping the number one jersey.”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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Kevin O'Brien

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