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Monaghan remain busy planning for the future

*By Cian O'Connell *

* *

Monaghan's population in the 2011 census was 60,483. Yet despite such shallow playing resources, they are swimming strongly in the deep end of inter-county football.

Two provincial titles were secured in 2013 and 2015, but Monaghan are now real competitors in the underage ranks also.

It is a remarkable story about maximising resources with Sunday's crunch Allianz Football League Division One encounter against Dublin at Clones another high profile fixture for the county that illustrates Monaghan's ability to punch above their perceived weight.

During the 2016 GAA Cul Camps 10,251 participated in Dublin, 2,789 in Monaghan. Back in 2006 5,713 attended in the capital, while Monaghan only had 865.

Significant work is being carried out in both counties, but Monaghan prove it's not just a pure numbers game. 

The county's Games Development Manager, Paul O'Connor, spoke to GAA.ie about how the county is always busy planning for the future.

Q: Why do you think Monaghan have been so successful in recent years?

*A: *There is a combination of reasons why we are where we are today with our senior team. I suppose in terms of full-time staff on the ground, we have seven at the minute. Over the last five or six years that would have gone up and down with between six or seven full-time staff. They've all worked very hard on the ground, working closely with Cumann na nBunscoil in the Primary Schools, working with our secondary schools and obviously working very hard with our clubs through delivering Coach Education Programmes, Coaching Workshops or working directly with individual clubs through their coaches.

So that sort of stuff has been going on for the last number of years and we would see that coming through at development squad and county minor and Under 21 level with us winning Ulster minor and Under 21 Championships in recent years.

The other thing would be the support we have got from the County Board; the Executive and the senior members in the County Board. They see the importance and they understand the benefits of investing in coaching and games and investing in our youth and our younger players. They are aware of putting structures in place so a county like ourselves maximises our potential in terms of giving everybody an opportunity to play the game and giving those that have the talent, ability, and interest to play at higher levels. It would be very much a strong relationship we would have with the County Board.

It would be with a number of different County Boards that would have been in place, I'm in my role just under 10 years. For every Chairman and County Board executive that was in place we've had great support from them.

Q: Those relationships must be vital?

A: We are very lucky with the staff that we have. They are obviously very capable, very motivated and very motivated to see Gaelic Games being promoted to the level that it is at the minute. They are also motivated to see our county do well. Obviously people like ourselves, who are on the ground.

There are two strands to what we are trying to. We are trying to promote and to develop the game. Also then we are trying to cater for that sort of elite group, for want of a better word. We are trying to cater for them so that they get an opportunity to progress and develop. We are very lucky, we do have some excellent staff, who are very motivated. Also we have local staff within the county, who have that connection with the county so they are motivated for the county to do well.

Q: Can you explain some of the work they do in the schools?

A: In terms of Primary Schools we would run a number of different initiatives. Our coaching programme would cater for Junior to fourth class. So we would focus in on the younger classes to try to get them involved, to link them to the local club. Then throughout the year we would organise outdoor Go Games blitzes. We would organise winter blitzes during the winter, we call them Fun Fives, they are five a side competitions.

There is actually on this week on Wednesday and Thursday in two indoor centres. Then we run after school programmes in regional areas where a number of Primary School students in fifth and sixth class can come to get an opportunity to play football when the local clubs aren't as active. A number of them initiatives have gone very well. We organise skills competitions as well in conjunction with the Cumann na mBunscoil's Finals days. Them sort of initiatives are specific to our own county and our own needs. They would all work quite well.

At secondary school level then, I suppose our secondary school programme has evolved over the years. We would have been very, very active in our secondary schools, but as time has evolved the secondary schools are self running themselves. We would be very much there to assist them if they required any assistance rather than us going in to lead it. There would be no longevity out of something like that.

Q: Did the coaches help them get up and running?

A: In fairness to our secondary schools within Monaghan, they would be very pro-active. We have a small population compared to other counties, but GAA is the number one sport. Gaelic Football is the number one game. Most of the kids going to secondary school, if they are in to sport they are going to play Gaelic Games. In fairness to the secondary schools we recognise that. We would have good teachers on the ground in primary and secondary schools, they would promote and develop the game. We would try to work in conjunction with them, to assist them as best as possible promoting and developing the game.

Q: From outside the county a lot of the commentary nationally would be that the games seem to be run particularly well from a club perspective in Monaghan. Is that the case?

A: Yeah, very much so. We definitely would have very good administrators within the county, particularly those that look after our youth fixtures programme and the adult programme within the county. You have a set number of games at adult level, you have a set number of games that will be on throughout the year, and you know when they are going to be played. It would be very good that way.

At youth level which would be directly linked to me, we would have had some excellent Youth Officers in over the last number of years. Very pro-active people, they would have been very innovative, thinking outside the box. Six or seven years ago they would have implemented a number of rule changes like the two touch rule, whoever is fouled takes the free. Them simple little adaptations to the game has benefited football within the county.

I believe we are producing a better type of player now as a result, particularly with the two touch rule. Obviously guys have to play with their heads up, to move the ball that bit quicker, they have to be aware of team mates around them. We have been very lucky with the people we've had on the ground, providing a games programme that caters for everybody. It is very hard to keep everybody happy, but the games programme we do have caters for a wide range of abilities and clubs within the county.

Q: What is the spread of clubs within the county?

A: We have 33 clubs altogether, six of them are hurling and a couple of them are dual clubs. We have 10 Senior clubs, 10 Intermediate clubs, and nine Junior clubs.

Q: It is a phenomenal achievement to be operating at the highest level with such a small base of clubs?

A: Yeah, we can highlight a number of reasons for that. The County Board give the Coaching and Games huge support, but the other thing I would highlight is that we have been very lucky with the people that have been managing our county teams, particularly at adult level. Obviously Malachy O'Rourke and Seamus McEnaney - those guys have done an awful lot.

Q: How crucial is it that people in those roles see the bigger picture?

A: Exactly. We would see that at development squad level. Any young player that has the ability to play at that level is now playing for us, they want to wear the county jersey, they want to play for Monaghan. That isn't down to just us on our level, it is down to the success we are having at county level, the people we have involved and the players that were involved. I would feel that we have a very special group of players involved with Monaghan at the minute. I would know a lot of them since they were growing up, since they were 14 or 15 years of age.

These boys have developed into fine young men, both on and off the field. They are real leaders, real good people, who understand the importance the GAA plays within the county. The role that they play as role models to develop the next generation, that has worked very well. These players are doing this almost unknown to themselves, it is just their personalities  that they have. They are very forthcoming in helping and supporting anything that we would be doing, offering advice to players.

We have a very special group of players that has allowed us to get to where we are. The management teams that have been in place over the last eight, nine, 10 years have all played a role to where we are today in relation to playing in Division One. Next year will be our fourth year which is where we want to be.

We are planning for the future, we want to sustain this, we want to stay there, we don't want to go back down the Divisions. We want to stay in Division One, to be competing at a high level, whether it would be provincial or national titles.

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