The gap between the GAA’s ‘progressors’ and ‘excuses’ is only widening

November 2009 was a wet month. So wet that a large part of Galway was submerged. I drove NUIG to Sligo one Friday evening in November. A journey, through several backroads and diversions, took about four hours. Knowing what was next upon arrival didn’t make the journey any easier.

Evin Walsh had a tried and tested pre-season template. November Friday night meant a 4x1km run with Curry GAA’s soft back pitch and roll call of finish times after each.

Fortunately this night the floodlights quickly failed on our first gallop.

Happy day, home on the couch and outside in the cold. either . , , Warm up in a small corner for a few minutes while the keys to the Tubercery GAA club pitch were secured. Twenty minutes later we were in our cars for the 10-minute journey to resume our session. Surprisingly, it was neither too hot nor too humid.

“Only To Win Once”
That would be enough”

On nights like that you cling to any piece of comfort for a little short-term inspiration. What better chorus could there be for the Saw Doctors and their Galway brothers to repeat the whistleblower?

“I wish to win only once”

As the 15 Teltane Cup teams and eight Sam Maguire teams have currently pulled themselves out of 2022 action, the thoughts of many players will change in the 2023 season. A strong pre-season that includes lots of foggy November nights will be at the fore of these ideas.

So, what happens next?

The answer is probably the difference between a county maximizing its resources – a progressive county – and a county dreaming of better days as well as a drifting county – a drifting county.

“Never thought of giving up”
As if winning is of your choice”

From the mid-zero to the middle of the last decade, a small overpopulated band of football counties worked together. I will call these progressive counties for the purposes of this piece. There were some pace-setters. Others reacted by using large followers to pull together the financial and human resources needed to match the breakaway. Some little ones showed some newness.

In this band of progressive counties I would include Dublin, Mayo, Kerry, Tyrone, Donegal, Roscommon, Monaghan, Claire, Galway and Mayo. Membership of this elite is not virtuous in all respects; Some were backward given the population and GAA history that they were given.

Some of these counties have had the foresight to make process-oriented changes to ensure sustainable progress. See Dublin has appointed John Costello as CEO who operates outside the political minefield of the county board’s official authority.

Others have been lucky enough to have hired transformational people who put in place the required standards. Check out Jim McGuinness in Donegal or Colm Collins in Claire’s. This individual-dependent progress is not that sustainable.

“For those who have lost their deceit and nerve”

For the most part I would include all other counties in the ‘drifting counties’ category. Low achievement, for the most part, results in strange paranormal results or temporary outliers like Kieran McGinney’s Kildare (see also Unstable Person-Driven Transformation above).

This is a broad overview and ignores some, like Derry, who have recently been swung into action. This is a diverse group. From large counties with great traditions to small counties that will always struggle, but not to the extent they have in the last decade.

“So come all you full-time small town heroes
drive away your innate fear of
different from everyone else
cynical and pessimistic”

What happens in most drifting counties after you drop out of a championship? Initially, nothing. Radio silence. “Boys need space”, some would treat lazily. This is bad.

At the outset consider an important equation. In short, take their season from January to June.

Variable 1: Duration = 6 months. Players already skillfully developed for this six-month period are likely to be exposed to lower levels of coaching compared to progressive counties.

Variable 2: Standard of Coaching (x).

Duration (6) x Coaching Standard (x) = Individual and Team Performance (6x)

After this there may be murmurs over the future of management. The drifting county board may be happy to sit and play it – they don’t need the hassle or potential expense of recruiting a replacement. As players return to their clubs, club fixtures in a drifting county are most likely not held in order to maximize games and ensure a high standard that will improve current or future inter county players.

September or October comes and a management is appointed or reappointed. The club season has advanced well. Four months of opportunities to identify new talent and work on refining the intricacies with the existing squad are missed.

Players, for the most part, will not have the intrinsic motivation to seek, get paid, and execute their own summer S&C work. Essential functions in addition to standard club training.

This means that six months of S&C work leading up to June are lost during three to five months of relatively little training. The following pre-season is spent capturing lost progress from June.

The elite player in the drifting county returns to the inter-county pre-season, the same player and athlete he was the previous pre-season. run to stop.

“Find your soul for all
An honest heart, an open mind”

What Happens in Progressive Counties? The following week after the conclusion of the championship, the players and the backroom team meet. An analysis of the end-of-season games is completed to ensure that all opportunities for improvement are captured. The open-minded management team demonstrates its growth mindset by asking all players to complete surveys at the end of the season. It collects positive and importantly negative feedback from all players, giving everyone a voice. These improvement opportunities are then compiled, and an action list is identified.

Immediately consider the above equation here. There are large numbers except variables.

Duration (8) x Coaching Standard (x2) = Individual and Team Performance (8×2)

And players are already starting from a higher base.

If management is moving forward, the Progressive County Board will ensure that players receive at least S&C advice. A management team remaining in situ will ensure that all players are given the S&C, tactical and skill aspects to work with throughout their club seasons.

Prospective club players will be contacted to work on some of these aspects to ensure they are prepared if offered a chance on an inter-county team later that year. Management will allocate resources to participate in every possible club game to ensure that any hidden gems, fall as individuals or novel tactical approaches are brought back to the county’s knowledge bank.

Similar to a high-interest bank account, players return for the pre-season to make compound improvements on the physical, technical and tactical advances achieved in the previous season.

The impact of this compounding on player and team development cannot be overestimated and is evident in the small elite that developed in Gaelic football.

“Time is running out so let’s go”
And face the ball, the game is on”

Now, as a sport, Gaelic football has to face the reality that the above scenario has been happening for over a decade. on both ends. Excessive progress and excessive drifting.

Then we question why we have a large and growing gap in standards between teams and players. For comparison look this back to a vibrant period before some of the smaller counties actually found their home. In a period when Laos, Westmeath and Sligo all won provincial titles, Fermanagh, Louth and Limerick were knocked out in the final and Wexford contested the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Winning just once will not be enough for any inter-county player. It is indisputable. But, it is a good short-term mantra that if adopted by all stakeholders in the county will help ensure more equitable play and provincial championships in the future.

For many county board officials, subconsciously, the mantra has become ‘to exist just once’.

Let all club games be played, keep finances under control and let someone else worry about growing the game and ensuring a vibrant future for supporters and players.


From the other side. A few weeks ago I mentioned the joy I get from throwing the man/woman who is to blame for a bad hurling game for the first time at the lack of atmosphere in a half-filled Croke Park.

Last weekend I had to laugh when one of hurling’s greatest advocates, Tommy Walsh, laid the blame for a weak quarter-final at the Thurles on the fact that the game was on a Saturday and not a Sunday.

Top class promotion. In the pre-game build-up he gets another, very well deserved, Buladha boss for his Love Island/hurling quarter-final analogy.

PS: We’re not going to mention hurting the man/woman, and certainly not Tommy Walsh, that a quarter full Croke Park produced two great football games last weekend! And many of the greatest GAA games in recent history are playing football on Saturdays. Football needs Tommy Walsh.