Kerry's hurling push continues at every level
By Kevin Egan
It could be argued that within the world of gaelic games, the brunt of Covid-19 and the subsequent cancellations fell harder on the educational sector than anywhere else. All across Ireland there were second and third level schools and colleges that were well-poised to make a strong bid for silverware, and by the time action resumes, hopefully this autumn, golden generations will have come and gone.
Then there are schools where even if they never won a game, 2020 and 2021 could have been momentous years. Causeway Comprehensive in Kerry is one such school, as Junior success at “B” level a few seasons ago meant that they were scheduled to play Harty Cup hurling this year gone by, drawn out against De la Salle College of Waterford.
It’s not unusual for Kerry underage hurling teams to draw very heavily from the classrooms of Causeway Comprehensive, and the Kerry team that put up a very respectable showing against Clare in the Munster U-20 championship was backboned by pupils of the school, as was the Kerry minor team that was level with Tipperary going into first half injury time last Wednesday night.
Tadhg Flynn is a former Kerry senior goalkeeper, is a current teacher and a hurling coach in Causeway Comprehensive, as well as managing the Tipperary minor hurlers this year. He’s philosophical about missing out on the Harty Cup, but still disappointed that a huge learning opportunity for future Kerry senior hurlers had to be missed.
“From the Kerry U-20 team the last day, a large number of players came through Causeway School and there were six or seven that would have played Harty Cup this year had the competition had gone ahead.
“One thing we find in Causeway is that our kids leave school quite early, so they don’t have the extra year. We would be very strong at U-16.5 but we don’t get the extra year out of them in senior cycle.
“We will be ‘B’ colleges again next year. A number of years ago we won the U16.5 B so that would have put us in to the Harty last year but unfortunately the way things worked out with COVID it just couldn’t go ahead. It was unfortunate for the players and the clubs around, but it couldn’t be helped.
“We had people come in from the outside to help out with the coaching. The players bought in to it in a big way so it was just unfortunate the way things worked out. It was unavoidable in the sense that the whole country had to make big sacrifices in the fight against Covid and that was all for the greater good, but it’s just a pity because it’s a chance that doesn’t come around too often for a school like ours”.
While Tipperary moved through the gears on Wednesday and ran out 2-27 to 1-14 winners, Flynn feels that Kerry weren’t as far away as that, and that a few things being done differently in the county could make a big difference to the long term future of hurling in the Kingdom.
“The bunch of players we had were extremely committed. We were down seven lads alright who would have been part of the panel or maybe the team. They were available last year but due to playing football this year opted out of playing hurling.
“Of the lads I had, they were probably the best group of lads I ever trained and the one thing I did like about them was that they feared no-one. There was no such thing as looking at Tipperary and thinking they have a stronger tradition than we have in hurling. They feared no-one and they stepped up to the challenge.
“The goal before half time was a bit of a setback and then when we came out for the second half Tipperary got 1-2 straight away in the first five minutes. If we got a score or two starting off we would have brought it a bit closer. You couldn’t be anything but proud of the performance they put in.
“The one disappointing element we had after the game I suppose that we felt we made so much progress and now we’re done for the year. In the last two years after what the world is after suffering with COVID and everything you can’t have it both ways. We are lucky to be back playing with what’s going on. I think in the long term would there be a possibility of Kerry going in to Leinster? I think you play them teams. If you are good enough you progress through the ranks and qualify for the Leinster proper. I do think in our development you need more games at a higher level”.
Flynn is a very strong advocate of the idea that you can have graded championships, but that they need to be integrated into an overall structure, not standalone competitions.
“‘B’ Championships, I know there is a lot of talk about those at the moment in terms of the football and everything else. The ‘B’ Championship is fine but it’s not promoted and players are left behind. You become accustomed to competing at that level and your structures and everything you do is set at that level as you are just participating at that level. I saw straight away after the Tipperary game, I could pinpoint four or five things that as a management team, we could work on for the next two weeks if we were going out again.
“Now if you would have played the ‘B’ level all them things would be hidden. It’s very easy to participate in ‘B’ and saw we are after winning a ‘B’ Championship and we are after doing this or that. There has to be gradual improvement. I always believe we have to play a standard above ourselves in order to do that”.
Given this pathway for young Kerry hurlers, with so many going through the school, Flynn is very familiar with the senior squad, and he has some concerns about tomorrow’s game in Croke Park, given Westmeath’s experience of hurling against top tier opposition this year.
“It’s been a tough enough year. They were on a bad run at the start with injuries. Every injury seemed to be worse than the other and that has a knock on effect.
“The league was up and down. They were fairly disappointing against Offaly, against Carlow Kerry tried out a few different things and it just didn’t work out. I saw the second half against Down and I was impressed with them. They have the capability up front, plenty of options, and Keith Hussey has added a lot too. The one concern I would have for playing Westmeath is that Westmeath have played Division One. People might say they have taken a few beatings but they are playing at a higher level and are learning”.
And does he believe Kerry are ready for Liam MacCarthy Cup hurling?
“I’m a firm believer that we need to have a look at development squads with our county set up. This year we had a good Strength and Conditioning coach in Alan Devane, but a cycle needs to be created.
“I also believe that not alone in your development squad should you be developing the players, you should develop the coaches along with the squad, I would like to see all the development squads train at the same date and at the same time. We have an excellent Centre of Excellence so you can have U-14, U-16, U-17 out at the same time. I also think they need to double the size of development squads. Instead of having 25 on a panel why can’t we have 50 U-14s?
“Based on the law of averages, you are going to lose players for different reasons. We need to maximise what we have. The guy at U-14 who mightn’t make your team could be the lad you need at U-17.
“We are surrounded by strong teams who are getting stronger. I think that’s where we need to look at our structures and see why is the gap widening. What are we doing wrong and what are other counties doing right? I firmly believe underage teams should be put in to big competitions. You can’t put them in B underage and then expect them to play in A at senior level. You can’t do ordinary level maths all the way along and then someone hands you a higher level paper on the day of the exam.
“The problem with second tier competitions is they get left behind. The teams in Tier Two and Three are doing the same training, but they get left behind. There needs to be an incentive there for Tier Two or Three. I think they should do it like the Premier League or the FA Cup. Let them play their Provincial Championships. Every county has a right to play in their Provincial Championships. At least them team has an opportunity to play at a high level”.
For the Kerry minors and for Tadhg Flynn, the battle to move to the highest level goes on. For the Kerry seniors, it throws in at 5pm tomorrow in Croke Park.