Some lively debate finally reared its head at a county board meeting on Monday night, as the current state of football in the county provided a lengthy discussion amongst the delegates.
The topic was raised by vice-chairman Gerry Kavanagh, who spoke of his disappointment at the poor support the county teams have received this year. Kavanagh informed the meeting that 30 Laois supporters made the trip to Killarney at the weekend, while the double-header in O’Moore Park the week before drew in just 400 spectators to cheer on the home teams.
While the Stradbally man admitted that costs in following teams was “prohibitive”, he still felt there was “an awful disconnect with support for the team” within Laois. The style of football Laois currently play has been held up as one reason for the current apathy, but Kavanagh felt that was not a good enough reason to withdraw support.
“People say they don’t like the style of play, but I think that’s a cop out. I have all my life supported Laois, I’m a Laois person and I will support them, but for people to stop supporting them is an indictment of our supporters.”
Timahoe delegate Willie Ramsbottom disagreed with the vice-chairman, and felt the style of play was playing a part. “When I see 13 players behind the ball, what can the fella up front on his own do? Chances are he can’t catch it, because he has two men on his back. I think the style is pathetic.”
Gerry Kavanagh admitted he did not want to get into a debate about the merits of the style or selections of Laois teams, but Portarlington’s Seamus Hunt felt a discussion on the state of the game in the county was needed. “We are in a dark place at the moment,” said Hunt. “What would be of much more concern to me is how we could get a 26 point drubbing in the U-21 championship when we were competing in All-Ireland semi-finals and finals just a few years ago.”
The Portarlington club chairman felt the underage structures in the county were not good enough at the moment. “My problem is with the underage structures in football, and there has to be something done. We have gone from being the leading lights, held up as a model on how to develop young players, to where we have now won just one U-21 championship game in four years.
“I’m not blaming the management, the problem is at club level. Youngsters are not good enough at the moment and there are a whole host of reasons. I think we are gone too PC, and youngsters don’t understand the basics of the game any more.
“Unless we get really serious we will be playing Division 4 football in a few years, because we have nothing coming through.”
Gerry Kavanagh agreed with Hunt’s assessment. “I couldn’t agree more, we took our eye off the ball for a three year period.”
County Board chairman Brian Allen urged delegates to bring the matter back to their clubs, as he felt all clubs needed to look at their own structures as well.
With underage success in the county having tailed off in recent times, The Heath’s delegate Mark Delaney felt that the system in place during Sean Dempsey’s tenure with underage teams in the county needed to be replicated. “During Sean Dempsey’s time we bore fruit, I think we need somebody similar to him. I’m not trumping his card, but every year there was a stream of chaps coming through, and that’s where the success came from.”
Brian Allen informed the meeting that system was now back in place, but some players were not good enough by the time they got to the county panels. “That is back in place now but the quality of player coming in at the start, in some cases, isn’t good enough, and they are trying to make footballers out of them then and it’s too late.”
Assistant treasurer Phil Duggan felt the development squads had become “too elitist” and that some players were written off at too young an age.
The current lack of teams competing in the ‘A’ championships was also brought up, and Mark Delaney felt that it was unfair to expect rural clubs to compete with Portlaoise, given the numbers available to the club. “The bottom line is that most clubs cannot compete with Portlaoise. They have a population of nineteen and a half thousand, and rural clubs cannot compete with that.”
One of the final speakers on the night was Graiguecullen’s Mick Bolton, who felt Croke Park were making it too difficult to get people involved with coaching. “We have almost regulated ourselves out of existence, and people will not get involved with teams because they are afraid.
“Croke Park are responsible and it all comes back to money. There is no GAA on RTE, they are hiding it on channels that you have to pay to watch. There are a lot of things that need to be looked at, and we are being left way behind by rugby.
“The sooner Croke Park starts helping people the better. Instead, you have the government looking to penalise the people who have been promoting the game and looking after the youth by taking money and giving it to the bankers that ran away with it in the first place.”