Positive reaction to Ó Mórdha Óg initiative in Laois
By Cian O’Connell
Throughout the decades Laois has been renowned for innovative coaches and approaches in various codes.
The Setanta Hurling project, with distinguished involvement from Pat Critchley and Séamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett’ provided players and a pathway. That programme was relaunched last year by Brian Phelan with a new Gaelic Football initiative for U11s commencing in 2023.
Shane Keegan, recently appointed Laois GAA Games Manager, is delighted with the reaction from emerging players, coaches, and volunteers in the county to the Ó Mórdha Óg idea.
For six consecutive Tuesday evenings U11 players in the county attended Laois Hire O’Moore Park for skills and games. “The original incarnation of Setanta was set up by Pat Critchley and Cheddar Plunkett,” Keegan explains.
“They set it up 15 years plus ago, it ran for a long time here. Almost everybody who went on to play hurling with Laois in the last 10 years probably passed through the original Setanta version.
“Then it died a death, it disappeared off the landscape for a while. Brendan Phelan, on a voluntary basis, managed to renew it, to breathe life back into it. He got it up and running. So when I landed into the new role they were in their second year of Setanta running.”
With Bryan Breen providing valuable assistance and drive, Keegan relished the chance of setting up the Ó Mordha Óg sessions. “We needed a football version because it was running like a dream the hurling one, and it is a fantastic initiative,” he adds.
“It gives all of the young players a fantastic chance to improve their skills, but the other huge thing is because so many coaches were coming together the informal coach education that it brings.
“When it comes to the football one, I was providing all of the content. The drills are put out for them, everybody that comes has a heap of new drills going home, they are looking at their own station and the stations around them to see how it is working. Whatever about player improvement, there is also a huge help from a coach education point of view.
“We had 170 registered, on any given night we might be down 30 or 40 bodies so you'd have around 120 or 130 on the nights. You'd have a rotating cast of people who might be away on holidays or caught with something.”
The collaboration and sharing of knowledge is one of the most pleasing aspects according to Keegan. “Whether they liked it or not I would have went out of my way to make sure that two coaches from the same club didn't end up at the same station,” he says.
“It is brilliant to have people from different clubs working together. You could probably say that even a few new friendships emerged from it, you might leave two coaches together for a couple of weeks because they worked well.
“We are looking at the talent of the players coming through, but we are also looking at the coaches, who we might be able to rope into getting involved with our Academy squads going forward.”
Undoubtedly improving the footballers was one of the objectives, but fun carried relevance too. “The most important thing is that the kids seemed to love it,” Keegan remarks. “We'd randomly split them up into different groups, we'd randomly separate the players.
“Fellas from the same clubs wanted to be sent to the same station, but we tried to split them up as much as we could. Basically they had 10 to 12 minutes on each station and the final station was just a game within their station.
“All the stations would have about 12 kids. Every 10 minutes the whistle would blow and they'd rotate on to the next station. There was a serious amount of setting up in this, it would take a good hour and a half to get the set up done.
“We'd lay out the pitches first and then we'd build drills onto the pitches. When the final whistle went it was just a case or removing the equipment with the pitches already there set-up. They kept coming back so they seemed to enjoy it.”
With a solid foundation established, Keegan is hopeful about making further progress in the future. “The idea is to expand, when Brendan brought Setanta back he restarted it at U10 in year one,” Keegan says. “In year two the U10s just progressed to U11 and a new group came in at U10.
“So you had two groups running this year in hurling and next year you will have three groups. We are a bit behind the curve in the football, whether we will jump from one straight to three or whether we will take our time by just going with two, I'm not 100 per cent sure. It has been a massive success.
“All the kids got an official jersey, the Ó Mórhda Óg jersey which was brilliant for them and the coaches got a coaches specific jersey which was a lovely jersey too.”
Colm Begley, Darren Strong, Brendan Quigley, David Conway, John O'Loughlin, and Gareth Dillon were among the former Laois senior inter-county players to assist at the sessions.
Keegan credits Breen’s willingness to help Laois football as being a key factor in the encouraging Ó Mórdha Óg start. “He was the driving force behind the Laois Gaels Supporters Club, he has boundless energy,” Keegan says.
“The coaches came in via two formats, one was sent out to the clubs and Bryan picked up the phone ringing a heap of former senior footballers. It would look fantastic if we had buy in from former players, he took that side of it.”
The past, present, and future of Laois football connected.