Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) and Westmeath GAA have launched an academy to nurture and develop highly skilled young players.
Up to 80 players will be selected annually to participate on a development programme which will run for five years.
The initial focus for 2014 is on young hurlers and footballers playing at under-13 level. The players will receive high quality coaching and sport science support on a weekly basis from experienced coaches and professionals.
Recruitment for the AIT-Westmeath GAA Academy will be by way of trials which will take place across Westmeath in February. This will be followed by a training and testing session in AIT in March, following which the boys participating in the academy will be selected.
Emmett Egan, sport scientist at AIT, explained the rationale for developing the academy. “Understanding the changing needs of the young player at each stage of their development is crucial towards helping produce a talented, successful and injury-free player. It is important to understand that the development of the player is paramount in this regard. They must be schooled in all the necessary skills in their formative years to have the right set of tools – both physical and technical. Young players must be able to pass, tackle, block, kick and catch correctly, as well as learning how to improve speed, stamina, flexibility, agility and balance in a safe and progressive manner.”
AIT’s expertise in sport science and coaching will be a key feature of the academy, said Mr Egan. “The approach of the coaching staff will be completely player-focused and absolutely everything associated with the project will be in the best interests of these young hurlers and footballers. The coach is crucial to the development of each player, and our coaching approach is based on sound scientific principles,” he said.
Sean Sheridan, chairman of Westmeath County Board, said that: “Investment in youth is a must and without it success will always be a step away. Our under-13 squads this year start a process that will ensure that the right steps are taken in their development and also in Westmeath’s development plan at under-age into the future for both football and hurling.
“The Westmeath County Board and AIT enjoy a very good working relationship and we appreciate all the help and assistance provided to us. We continue to work together always looking to improve, so we are delighted to partner with AIT on what is a new initiative for the GAA in general, and, in particular, for Westmeath. We recognise that it will take a huge effort from all, but with the facilities in AIT, which are second to none, along with sport science expertise, we believe it’s well worth the effort,” Mr Sheridan stated.
The players participating in the AIT-Westmeath GAA Academy will be profiled according to their agility, reaction, speed and power using state-of-the-art equipment. Training sessions will involve a combination of physical development, player education and pitch-based skills.