Roscommon Gaels already feeling the benefit of Táin Óg League
By John Harrington
Roscommon Gaels played their first ever match in the Táin Óg Hurling League on Monday night, and already their U-13 manager, Adrian Tully, is in no doubt the competition can be the engine that drives hurling to new heights in the club in the coming years.
They’ve entered at all grades – U-13, U-15, U-17 – and will also compete in the adult version of the cross-county competition, the CúChulainn Cup.
Tully, a very talented goalkeeper for Roscommon in his own day, believes that clearly defined player pathway will be the key to surmounting the greatest challenge for clubs trying to grow hurling in developing counties – player retention.
“It is about that pathway and players being able to clearly see where it's going and that there is regular games,” he told GAA.ie. “It's promoted very well too, the name is out there.
“The main reason we decided to join the Táin Óg was for regular games. And what I really like about the Táin Óg is that it's a protected competition in so far as it's played on Monday nights when there cannot also be football fixtures
“Now, I'm very much a football man as well, but it's so important to have that Monday night ring-fenced for hurling. It means we can plan, we know we're playing Monday night and will have all our players available to us.
“As opposed to if you arranged a challenge match and then someone tells you they want to have a football match the same night.
“So I really like two things about the Táin Óg - the level we're playing at and also the structure of the competition.”
Roscommon Gaels’ first experience of the competition on Monday night was a memorable one – their match against Mayo club Westport was played in the NUIG Connacht GAA Airdome in Bekan.
“It was a fantastic experience for the boys,” says Tully. “It's an incredible facility and for a 12 or 13 year old boy it was hugely exciting.
“We didn't know until we got there we were playing in the Dome. They were just so excited and in Roscommon hurling and especially a town team like Roscommon Gaels where you're trying to develop the game, small things like that make such a difference.
“Even though we were beaten by Westport in the match, there was just a great buzz when they got back training last night. They were just flying it. Small things like that mightn't make much of a difference in counties like Cork and Kilkenny, but it certainly does in a county like Roscommon.
“It's up to clubs and people like us now to back the Táin Óg. Monday night was my first taste of it and the referee, who happened to be the co-ordinator, his attitude was unbelievably positive.
“It was all about promotion and encouragement. He'd explain what a foul was and not at the expense of slowing up the game. And there were a few words to the lads after the game as well. It all worked very well, I was very impressed after our first outing.”
Roscommon Gaels’ decision to enter all levels of the The Táin Óg League as well as the Cúchulainn Cup is a timely one because their participation will further accelerate the great developmental work that has been done in the club in recent times.
The club’s executive had the foresight to set up an underage academy a number of years ago which has had a very positive impact.
Not only has it boosted the number of children joining the club, it’s also encouraged many parents to embark on a coaching pathway that should benefit the club for years to come.
A club-school link has also been established that sees coaches go to local primary schools to introduce them to the GAA with fun-based games and then encourage them to further develop their interest by joining the Gaels.
At senior level there has been great signs of progress too this year since the appointment of Ronan O’Meara who has made it a priority to bring through a new generation of talented and enthusiastic young hurlers.
The number of clubs who are competing in the Táin Óg and CúChulainn has exploded this year, and the GAA's Director of Coaching and Games Development, Shane Flanagan, is confident they’ll all benefit from an environment that encourages the development of the game.
“The Táin Óg and CúChulainn Cup competitions are integral to our games programme and we are delighted that the competitions have started,” said Flanagan.
“We now have over 250 teams participating across the four competitions from U13 to adult level. The involvement of clubs such as Roscommon Gaels is a prime example of our target participants for the Táin Óg competition.
“It is very encouraging to see clubs like this participating for the first time with the added bonus of fielding in all four grades which is a fantastic achievement and testament to the work being done in developing hurling counties.”