Encouraging underage progress being made by Sligo
By Cian O'Connell
For most of the past few decades underage football in Sligo has been simply based on survival, but silverware is currently on the agenda.
Through sheer hard graft and clever planning Sligo teams are now viewed as a respected county at Post Primary, minor and Under 21 level.
On Saturday evening Paul Taylor manages a highly rated Under 21 outfit in the EirGrid Connacht Final against Galway, a further sign of the progress that has been made.
Sligo contested the 2015 provincial minor decider, while Summerhill College and St Attracta’s, Tubbercurry are now serious operators in Connacht Colleges action.
Summerhill earned glory in 2016, while Attracta’s were beaten finalists in 2014, 2016, and 2017. Amazingly a Sligo school has been involved in the last eight Connacht showpieces.
Liam Og Gormley, Sligo’s Games Manager, has occupied a central role in this success story. “A big thing is that we have put a structure in the county with development squads, and this is helped by the County Board, who give us great support,” Gormley tells GAA.ie.
“We were also very lucky with a number of the teachers that came into some of the schools. We got a lot of very good teachers into schools, who are all working very, very hard in Sligo.
“From the development squads we've had a lot of good people getting involved, helping us out. I suppose just being there on a regular basis to help to develop the kids from under 14 up to minor and under 21.”
So how has it all come together for Sligo in recent years? “What we have at the moment is a six week introductory programme for Under 13s, it isn't really a development squad, it is more like a super games centre where we bring them in for six weeks to get to know all of the players,” Gormley explains.
“We bring in our county players, they help us out with the coaching. At Under 14 and 15 we would have two squads at each of the different levels. We pretty much just started back there last Saturday getting them ready for the year. They will have about 15 or 20 sessions throughout the course of the year.
“At Under 16 we've had two squads on years that we felt we were good enough to have two squads and one on the years we don't feel we are good enough. We try to keep the base as wide as we can for as long as we can. We try not to lose any of the guys that we have because we wouldn't have as strong a base of players as other counties would so we have to do extra work with them. The clubs are doing fantastic work with what they do, so we just have to support them with the extra work on top of that.
“We have great teachers in St Attractas and Summerhill College, who have been willing to give up their time to help develop the squads there, who are both competing at A level in Connacht at this moment and time.”
Gormley reckons that Sligo have the skill to compete, generating more belief and conviction is what they need to improve upon. “We wouldn't have the same base as others,” Gormley says about Sligo’s playing numbers.
“If you look across all ranges of sport Sligo is awash with sport. Basketball is very strong, soccer is very strong, rugby is strong so for us with the kids we do get in we have to maximise what they have.
“The big thing we have worked on are skill levels and improving their skill levels. When they play further up they are confident on the pitch. I feel the biggest difference between the Sligos of this world and the Mayos and Galways is confidence.
“The thing that is beating them is confidence, skill-wise at this stage they are equally as skilful. The strong teams get stronger because they are confident, the guys trying to get there aren't as confident. The minute they get a knock it knocks them back three steps instead of one.”
Sligo, though, are getting better at dealing with blows as Summerhill and St Attracta’s lead the way.
How Sligo collaborate with IT Sligo and the Connacht GAA is instrumental too according to Gormley.
“We have two full-time football coaches and we have a programme where we work alongside IT Sligo,” Gormley says. “When one of their students finishes the Sport and Recreation course at the end of the year we get a placement student to come out with us for 11 months when they are finished. We have that on a rolling basis now. That started this year, it has been great.
“We have a part-time arrangement then for the Primary Schools from the IT. We are also lucky we have a strength and conditioning placement student through Cathal Cregg in Connacht GAA, who comes on board every February with us for six months.
“Every one of the counties has them, we just don't have the money to be able to afford them on a full-time basis to work with all squads. We have Fergal Tully at the moment with us, he is absolutely fantastic, that is purely because of the initiative of John Tobin and Cathal Cregg and the Connacht Council.”