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'It’s very hard to get everyone on the same hymn sheet': The battle to develop a county's young stars

Michael Quinn on the need to bring on Longford’s rising stars and break out of their slump.

Quinn, right, in action against Dublin during the 2013 O'Byrne Cup.
Quinn, right, in action against Dublin during the 2013 O'Byrne Cup.
Image: INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

BRIGHT LIGHTS AND big cities aren’t helping Longford’s quest to close the gap on Leinster’s big boys.

Jack Sheedy’s men travel to Limerick on Sunday where both sides will be hoping to bounce back from opening defeats in Division 3 of the National Football League.

They do so without a handful of youngsters who are expected to be rested ahead of the Leinster U21 Championship.

Longford’s underage record in recent years has pointed to a bright future. Robbie Smyth, James McGivney, Barry O’Farrell and Barry McKeon are among those who graduated from the side which won the provincial minor title in 2010.

All four played again last year when Longford stunned the Dubs, knocking the defending champions in the Leinster U21 quarter-finals.

They have been brought on and broken into the senior squad but others have drifted away.

Because Longford have a smaller pool of players than Dublin and the other Leinster powerhouses, it’s even more important that they hold on to and develop their rising stars.

But it’s harder than it sounds, Michael Quinn says.

“It’s the set-up Dublin that have. From minor, U21 and senior, you are holding players.

Longford have done well with U21s the last few years but it’s holding on to those players and making sure they are brought up on strength and conditioning through the ranks, minor and U21, and then keeping them into senior.

“With the likes of Dublin a lot of new faces break on. It’s rare you see 19-, 20- or 21-year-olds or younger playing senior now, they’re breaking through older. Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion would have been considered fairly young last year.

“You have to make sure you keep 10 from the U21s. The likes of Dublin have such a large pull, someone new pops up each year.”

But with Longford languishing in Division 3 — they lost all seven of their league games and were relegated last season — the lure of county action isn’t always that strong.

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“[Younger players] are up at college, training during the week once or twice. At the end of the day it’s very hard to keep them.

I suppose it’s a mentality in the so-called weaker counties that you could on any given day put it up to one of these teams and you could pip them. You have to have that opinion across the board in a team. There’s no point in three or four, a few lads going with the flow.

“That’s definitely it, the appeal of guys playing college football and not so much with the county, heading away in the summer.

“It’s very hard to get everyone on the same hymn sheet whereas with Dublin you know you are going to be there or thereabouts in September.”

Players like Paul Barden, now 33 and embarking on his 15th senior season, are becoming more and more of a rarity, Quinn says.

“Some guys are die-hard GAA players. They are always going to be there. Look at Paul Barden from Longford, 15, 16 seasons no matter — rain, hail or snow, marriage, whatever like, the whole lot, he is
always going to be there.

“You go to the younger guys with college life, a few nights out on a Monday or Tuesday or whatever, and the appeal of coming home for pre-season training isn’t there as much.

Some young guys will still have that drive. It would be a lot more in a Dublin team I suppose.

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About the author:

Niall Kelly

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