Tuesday 7 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Bad weather is a constant problem for teams.
# column
Irish football may fear the GAA, but playing in winter is hampering our kids' development
Columnist John O’Sullivan believes its time for schoolboy leagues to move to summer football.

LET’S JUST ADMIT our cowardice, Irish football is afraid of the GAA.

Our fear of the GAA ‘monster’ is the primary reason so many are unwilling to move schoolboy football to a summer league. There is a fear that kids will leave football in droves to focus exclusively on the GAA should the sports run concurrently.

The strength of the GAA, and our unwillingness to ‘take it on’ is consistently raised as though the organisation is some insurmountable obstacle.

So we pretend that we can develop players on muddy fields and through bad weather while we wring our hands at ‘the lack of quality players coming through’.

I coach kids at non-competitive age groups and this season, due to weather, they’ll have played in only four blitzes. Our U10 and U11 teams are scrambling to catch up on games postponed last year, at a time when GAA training and matches are back.

There’s the first important point; across winter football, weather forces the vast majority of games into periods when the GAA is already active.

We’re already clashing with the GAA. Through November, December and January this year, even with access to astroturf pitches, the weather meant the cancellation of all blitzes in my region and the cancellation of huge numbers of schoolboy matches.

Very few games are played during the GAA’s off-season.

The strength of the GAA is beyond question and there’s no doubt that the GAA is completely dominant over the summer months, but too few people in Irish football look at cause and effect.

Do we accept that the GAA should have the summer months to themselves because it is so strong, or do we ask if it’s having a monopoly over the summer months that results in its strength?

The fundamental advantage the GAA have is the full attention of kids over the period of the year most likely to have good weather, good pitches and long sunlit evenings which allows predictable training and matches.

Irish football should have no qualms about looking to secure those conditions for our game.

The only valid concern about switching to summer football is burn-out of players. Two nights of football training plus a match alongside two nights of GAA training plus a match isn’t going to work for most parents or their kids.

So just accept that once the training ramps up, kids will choose one sport or the other.

Right now, participation in football is three times that of either GAA code so we need to have a bit of confidence that – for whatever reason – kids and adults will continue to play the sport.

Will we lose kids who favour GAA? Of course we will, but let’s be honest with ourselves, in terms of developing players who might go on to play at League of Ireland or international level, how many kids will switch late from GAA anyway?

Developing kids in winter football is an absolute joke.

When Iceland assessed their player pathways and realised that their kids weren’t playing enough football, they considered their climate and invested in indoor facilities and astroturf pitches.

Exclusive Six
Nations Analysis

Get Murray Kinsella’s exclusive analysis of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign this spring

Become a Member

We don’t need to do that. The simplest way to get our kids playing more often is to move to the time of the year when additional daylight, better pitches and improved weather allows them more opportunities with a ball at their feet.

Here’s the thing: I’m not out to damage or weaken the GAA. I started back with my local GAA club about a month ago and am currently coaching both football and GAA. Two other coaches, with me since last August, are doing the same.

Due to the overlap of volunteers between the two codes, there’s no animosity across the age groups we coach. We manage clashes on a case by case basis to make it work for the kids. I’ve no desire to damage or weaken GAA but I have a huge interest in making Irish football stronger.

Last weekend, an U12 Gaelic football game my team was due to play was postponed due to the weather. It was played last night (Thursday) in sunshine, on a pitch that had a few days to dry out.

That’s the advantage of summer football. The time for the switch is long overdue.

The42 is on Snapchat! Tap the button below on your phone to add!

‘One of the reasons I signed was to be involved in the derby’ – Bohs new star winger Ben Mohamed

Ex-Ireland international Stephen Elliot joins Shelbourne

Your Voice
Readers Comments