Sifting through recent results of the Kilkenny football team, at senior, minor and under 21 grades I could not help but grimace. The Cats finished bottom of NFL Division 4 with an embarrassing score difference of -241 this season. Their under 21′s sprung to national prominence for all the wrong reasons in late February when their panel of only 15 players were tortured by Louth by a scoreline of 6-35 to 0-02. Last Friday evening their minor footballers were beaten by 50+ points by Offaly. Is this slide irreversible? Or could some smart thinking and extra resources change the way football is treated within the county.
Is it unthinkable that placing the county footballers in the national spotlight could begin a big ball revolution? As a GAA fanatic I have watched the success of Reality GAA TV Shows, namely Celebrity Bainisteoir and the Underdogs. It is fascinating how added resources, improved structure and the introduction of a camera can galvanise a team, while also mobilizing the surrounding community. If such a structure was put in place in Kilkenny I am fully sure that enthusiasm surrounding the county footballers would increase no end. There is footballing talent within the county, it is just a matter of unearthing it and giving players a structured platform to prove themselves.
My plan for the program would play out as follows……
1. A well known management team put in place. Mick O’Dwyer would be ideal , flanked by young blood such as Dara O’Cinneide, Ciaran Whelan etc. This management team will take Kilkenny footballers through a season of league and championship.
2. A documentary style program which will follow the team for a year.
3. A huge recruitment drive throughout the county luring all potential talent to trials.
4. A process where approximately 30 eager and hard working players will be selected to represent their county for the season.
Ok, I am not saying that Kilkenny are going to suddenly spring from nowhere to win the Leinster Championship. Maybe they wont even win a game. But what they will be is organized, disciplined and competitive. 70% of what takes place on a GAA pitch is effort, work-rate and commitment – if you have that you are well on the way to where you want to be.
Currently there are footballing talents in Kilkenny sitting at home saying ‘why bother?’ when it comes to the prospect of representing the county. Most players would rather play a Junior Club Hurling game then tog out for the county footballers. What this program would aim to do is to mobilize these talents so that Kilkenny has every amenity available to them to develop football within the county.
This program will also create a sense of hype around Kilkenny football. Kids will suddenly recognise what is going on through the television and want to go and see these players in person. They will become role models for children of Kilkenny. We saw in Celebrity Bainisteoir how the competing players were worshipped as heroes throughout the community – and in particular in the national schools. Doom and gloom will be replaced with optimism. Subsequently crowds will rise, enthusiasm will rise, performance will rise.
Such a program could have a huge knock on effect for football within the county. A season of limelight and fairytales could lead to a much higher uptake of football from young kids within the county. Down the line the minors may become competitive, then the under 21s……
It has been stated recently that Kilkenny would be better off not fielding a football team at all. I think this is disgraceful – every county deserves the opportunity to showcase their talents and give players the honour of donning the county colours. Kilkenny are a hurling superpower, but football should not be ignored. I believe the problem lies with the perception within the county. Footballers aren’t respected, almost treated as outlaws. This program would go a long way to changing that perception – and after that …. the sky is the limit!
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