Martin Fogarty wants to take the fear-factor out of coaching hurling
By John Harrington
The GAA’s National Hurling Development manager, Martin Fogarty, believes a fear of coaching hurling is holding the game back in some parts of the country.
The Kilkenny native is keen to demystify the game and show people that you don’t need a background in hurling in order to be able to coach it or introduce it to your club or school.
“I have met people I went to College with years ago who were quite good footballers and are teachers now and I'd ask them were they doing any hurling in their schools,” said Fogarty, who will be a key-note speaker at the the 2018 GAA Games Development Conference in Croke Park.
“I thought they were messing at first, but they weren't, when they said they were almost afraid of it because they wouldn't have a clue.
“These were guys who were quite capable of killing you on the field of football, but this game of hurling for them was something way beyond their reach.
“It's important we alleviate those sorts of fears and show that if you get a crash-course in hurling and get the youngsters togged out and make little games they'll play away and develop themselves.
“Years ago in our club a priest, Father Liam Dunne, came down from Wicklow and didn't know the handle of a hurl from the bas of a hurl and made a huge difference in the parish.
“He had no experience in hurling but had plenty of enthusiasm. That's all you need, the rest will happen.
“One of obstacles for hurling is that hurling is hard to play. To get the initial skills takes a lot of work by coaches and by players.
“And until you get the initial skills in any game you don't enjoy it. Whereas if you go out with a football of any description you can kick it and you can pick it. It's not that difficult. But with a hurl it is difficult.
“For us involved with developing and coaching hurling, we need to get over that initial hump. To get people coaching and ensure they're not afraid of the game. Not sell themselves short and say, 'I'm not able to coach this, I don't know how to do it'.
Fogarty believes hurling can thrive in GAA clubs and schools that currently only play Gaelic Football if parents and mentors cast their fear aside and coach hurling in the same way they do gaelic football.
“I'd be trying to appeal to football people in clubs to do a little bit of hurling in clubs as well and maybe demystify it a bit,” said Fogarty.
“You couldn't get as good an example as Slaughtneil to show just what can be done if the will is there to do it. It's just unbelievable what they are achieving.
“You wouldn't be looking for a tenth of the level that those guys have reached, but they are showing what's possible.
“I was up there recently in Omagh in Tyrone and they hadn't an adult hurling team until last year for nine or ten years. Now they're growing the two games together at underage level and it's tremendous what's happening.
“I went up there to a Go Games day where they had four venues, four pitches at each venue, eight counties, 20 clubs, and about 34 teams at under 8 and Under 10 level. It was absolutely outstanding to see it.
“They're all dual players who are playing hurling side by side with football.
“There probably is an element in some football areas that maybe fear the hurling might take away from or take over from the football.
“And, to be fair about it, you would have had a fear of football in some hurling areas too. It was down here often over the years too that lads would fear the football would interfere with the hurling.
“But you're not looking for parity even. You want the game to be available to be played at some level in as many clubs as possible. I would be happy with that.”
Fogarty has travelled the length and breadth of the country coaching coaches and players since he started in his role of National Hurling Development Manager in September 2017, and what he has seen in that time has convinced him the game is in very rude health.
“I'm more than encouraged,” said Fogarty. “There are pockets of hurling all over the country that would embarrass us in what are known as the strong counties.
“I went up to Donegal during the summer. The county footballer Michael Murphy's father, who's also named Michael, is the GDA (Games Development Administrator) up there.
“He had organised a three-day hurling activity for 13 to 15 year olds. Some of these youngsters were travelling for an hour and maybe a bit more to get there and the same home again, but we had about 50 at it.
“That absolutely blew me away when I saw the geography of where these guys were coming from. The County Board sent out mini-buses for them and bussed them in.
“Coaches from across Ulster were delivering it and the two Fennellys were up there for a bit too on one of the days and it was just a wonderful occasion.
“When you see 50 young lads there aged 13-15 in Donegal who have travelled an hour and a bit to get there, you have to say that this is super.
“I was also up there earlier in the year working with their Celtic Challenge squad and it was the same thing.
“They have an initiative up there as well where for 15 if not 20 saturday mornings throughout the year the county board bus the youngsters in from throughout the county and they get in there and hurl. And the level I saw from both coaches and players was quite good.
“They're doing a lot of work up there and I'm seeing the same in many different pockets all over the country.
“I was up in Breaffy in Mayo before Christmas and around 40 coaches turned up. We thought we'd have 15 or 20 young lads just to do demonstrations with, but as it turned out we had nearly too many, we had around 36 of them.
“That was the middle of December. if you were to use that as a yard-stick, you'd be saying there's something serious happening here.
“When you travel around you meet some seriously great people who are keeping it going, and that's all over the country.”
• The GAA Games Development Conference 2018 is being developed in partnership with Sky Sports and will take place on Friday and Saturday, January 12th and 13th 2018, in Croke Park.
Run as a partnership between all of the Gaelic Games Associations, the Conference will offer the 750 delegates attending an opportunity to access talks relating to key coaching issues in Hurling/Camogie, Gaelic football/Ladies Gaelic football, Handball and Rounders which are related to players across the entire player development pathway.