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02nd Mar 2018

“Let a 15-year-old be a 15-year-old” – Padraig Amond on the Carlow debate

Conan Doherty

When Carlow GAA published a text message that highlighted kids couldn’t play GAA if they were on the Carlow/Kilkenny soccer team, it wasn’t an attack at soccer.

The fallout might’ve garnered a poisonously divisive reaction and lent itself to a classic GAA v soccer tit-for-tat war but that text and that decision is just one example of far too many.

That sort of attitude is rife in the GAA too – probably even more so. A lot of coaches look down their noses at soccer, they have this ignorant idea that it encourages bad habits and they even just disregard it completely as a foreign sport, for God’s sake.

So giving out about what had happened in Carlow wasn’t giving out about soccer in general and ignoring the mishaps in the GAA. Far from it. If anything, it was an attempt to shine a light on every single coach who’s at this carry on – those in the GAA too.

So whatever side of the sporting sphere you’re on, the only us and them should be those coaches who think it’s okay to divvy out ultimatums to kids and the rest of us who see sense.

The backlash at the critics of that decision has been fierce. Many people can see logic in 14-year-olds leaving an entire club and sport behind to put all their eggs and hobbies in one basket. They don’t have a problem with making children choose or making them think about things like recovery and professional contracts when they could just be enjoying themselves.

Some of the best Irish internationals were stars in other sports growing up. You look at the Republic team, look at the Irish rugby side and look at inter-county GAA set-ups and you’ll see a crossover right up to when players were 18 and 19, still going strong in different codes.

One man who has made a good career playing football outside of Ireland is Padraig Amond.

The Newport County striker, fresh from playing at Wembley against Tottenham Hotspur, was taken aback when he saw the message.

Amond played GAA whilst working his way through the Shamrock Rovers academy. From there, he burst onto the League of Ireland platform before making a career for himself across the water, via Portugal.

Playing different sports didn’t affect his pathway. If anything, Amond things it helps to develop players, learning different skills and tactics in different sports.

In a series of brilliant posts, Amond spoke some glorious sense and he does so from experience.

“I was once that 15 year old who played everything,” he said.

“I was gone every night of the week training or playing games. I never needed a ‘recovery day’. I’m also a professional athlete who very very rarely has or needs ‘recovery days’. They should be allowed to play both, end of. They are 15.

“The point is young lads shouldn’t be made to choose until it’s necessary – ie. when there is a pro contract in front of them.”

But, even without that pro contract, children are being told that it’s one or the other. If short-term thinking comes into it, if winning at underage level is the goal of some coaches, then it’s the kids who lose out and it doesn’t really help the club any better in the long run.

“The biggest point people are missing here is that the underage coach’s job is not to win at all costs but it’s to develop the kids. By making them choose sports they are hindering the development of those kids.

“When I played for Shamrock Rovers u14 we got relegated to the second division in the DDSL. From that side there were 4 players who played for Shamrock Rovers first team. To me that’s success. I might be wrong though

“Would you rather be part of a club that won an u15 LOI title and produced no professional footballers or be a coach whose team finishes bottom of that league but produced 5/6 professional footballers?”

The idea that player welfare is at the centre of this thinking is almost insulting. If you’re saying a 14 or 15-year-old has a better chance of ‘making it’ in professional football by sitting on his arse three days a week instead of training more, instead of playing GAA or whatever other sport, get a hold of yourself.

And, if anything, it’s just funny now that, in the current culture and all the railing against sedentary lifestyles, it’s actually coaches who are telling kids to be less active. Because it’s for their benefit after all.

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