The enterprising Anthony Williams is an established player for Louth.
The enterprising Anthony Williams is an established player for Louth.

Louth building for the future

By Cian O’Connell

Francie McMullen has worked with Louth GAA for eight years and believes something is really beginning to stir.

Challenges most certainly exist, but there is a sense that Louth are building nicely for the future on and off the field of play.

Louth Games Manager McMullen is encouraged by the manner in which volunteers in clubs throughout the county continue to assist with underage teams.

Reaching the Electric Ireland Leinster Minor Final under current senior manager Wayne Kierans was a most encouraging sign.

“From our side it is very easy to say we are doing good work, but obviously you need other factors to maybe prove that,” McMullen admits.

“The minors doing well over the past number of years is something we are really looking at to see what progress we are making. That is the big shift in terms of results and being competitive at that level.”

McMullen is adamant about the value of the East Leinster GAA Project which has helped Louth significantly. “I would say that with the East Leinster money that has come in during the past two or three years, in particular, has been a big help,” McMullen adds.

“Over the past eight years when I came in we started off with three staff and we are sitting there now with nine so we are able to spread ourselves further across the ground within the club setting.

Exciting Louth forward Ryan Burns in Allianz Football League Division Three action.
Exciting Louth forward Ryan Burns in Allianz Football League Division Three action.

“If anything it shows we are making more headway in the club setting in terms of the coaching and standards as opposed to just a game sense.

“So that is probably a big plus on our behalf, that we are able to focus on that and do that more. We are maybe a bit more focused to a regional set up in the way we deploy the staff.”

That means clubs in Louth are afforded more regular visits by the full-time staff operating. “The way we have it in the current set-up is that each club within the county should receive a minimum of two GDA visits per month,” McMullen explains.

“Within that we are looking at coach education as well as the skill refinement within the clubs for players. Obviously us being on the ground a bit more is putting a bit more pressure on the clubs to do their best regarding opportunities for their coaches and children to get upskilled at the same time.”

Considering so many clubs are established in Dundalk and Drogheda, McMullen hopes Louth GAA can assist them as much as possible.

“I suppose when you look at the urban setting we have two large towns unlike a lot of other counties taking in maybe 60,000,” McMullen remarks.

“Portlaoise for example maybe only has one and possibly a second club, but it is the fact we are trying to spread across maybe six clubs in Dundalk and five in Drogheda. That in itself is a challenge because we have to make sure clubs can cater for what they have. At the same time we also have to help them keep up the volunteer aspect to cope with the numbers they have.

“I'm not saying all the numbers are massive, but at the same time it still would take a lot of volunteer work to keep those clubs up and running.

Louth football manager Wayne Kierans.
Louth football manager Wayne Kierans.

Trying to find the correct balance can be demanding, but it remains an ongoing process. “In some cases, without putting them down, the clubs are really struggling to attract kids in,” McMullen states.

“That is maybe the difference between ourselves and maybe Portlaoise where everybody goes to the one club or GAA school. It is the complete and utter opposite. We have clubs and schools, but none is deemed like a St Pat's Navan to focus on.

“So it is a very unique challenge in Louth. Also whatever works in Dundalk doesn't necessarily work in Drogheda because the urban setting is different there again. You have to find different solutions to different problems to the issues which arise in both areas.”

Encouraged by the enthusiasm of Louth’s coaching staff McMullen acknowledges the manner in which they all collaborate.

“I can't overstate the staff we have,” McMullen remarks. We have some former inter-county stars and we have an array of skills that two or three people couldn't cope with.

“We have nine staff at the minute and we all bring an element of our games and coaching ability to distribute across the region, not just in their own region. Whoever the GDA is looking after Dundalk isn't just tied to Dundalk, he can go to do stuff in other areas to use his skill in those areas.

“The GDA in the other areas can then come into Dundalk. As much as there is a GDA for a region the staff can be utilised across the county in hurling and football.”

The Centre of Excellence in Darver provides a base and top class facilities according to McMullen. “You can't underestimate the fact because it has been a huge help putting everybody under the one roof and having six pitches,” McMullen comments.

Andy McDonnell remains a key player for Louth.
Andy McDonnell remains a key player for Louth.

“We also have DKIT which has a super facility. We aren't short on facilties which makes our job a lot easier because we have access and good working relationships with the colleges and schools to get as much use out of the facilities currently available to us.”

Very much involved in the Allianz Football League Division Three promotion race under Kierans’ guidance, hope and expectation is back in Louth. “Nobody questioned that the ability wasn't there last year even though they obviously had a poor Division Two,” McMullen says.

“We have good footballers proving through the minors and Wayne's work. Even the Academy squad coaches you can see that there is a bit of a buzz about Louth again. It is always nice when they are playing well and progressing up the table. People want to see them competing, we are competing, and we are competing at multiple levels right down from senior into minor and playing at a good level at Academy level.

“When people see that work is being done and that they are getting something out of it you can see a domino effect right across each of the squads. It was similar with the hurlers when they won the Lory Meagher a few years ago. You could see the young lads wanting to play the game. Success is helpful, but they also appreciate that good work is being done by the clubs as well as the county.”

That relationship between the staff and volunteers throughout Louth is growing. A solid foundation has been established and now Louth want to build further. “Again roll back eight years ago you were ringing up people begging them to come in to give you a hand because you hadn't got mentors,” McMullen recalls.

“We are almost putting it out now like a tender for people to state their interest such is the willingness of people to get involved with the squads.

“That is something over the past few years has taken us by surprise. People see we are doing good work and that there are opportunities for them to develop too. Overall we are in unchartered territory in terms of people wanting to get involved with us. That wasn't the case eight years ago.”

The Louth journey continues.