Former Derry forward and manager Damian Cassidy is Chairman of the county's Games Development Committee (Pic: Brian Lawless/Sportsfile)
Derry All-Ireland winner Damian Cassidy is the Chairman of a new-look Games Development Committee, who last week rolled out their proposed football coaching plan to clubs across the county. He told Michael McMullan why he feels clubs need to embrace change.
Michael McMullan: Where did it all begin, what was day zero in the process?
Damian Cassidy: The genesis of the whole concept was at a meeting a couple of years ago. There were a number of clubs not happy with the county board. Kieran (McKeever - pictured right) was one of the more high profile people, asking questions about the direction of Derry football. It was very evident there was a disconnect with the county board. There was a strong message coming back from the clubs that there was no plan on how to make things better and everyone was doing their own thing.
Whenever Kieran went in as Vice Chair and Stephen (Barker) went in at the AGM in the following period, they initiated that process.
I was approached to take the Chair (of the sub-committee). I can't say it was something I jumped at immediately, I am a very busy individual, but I couldn't say no to Kieran.
I sat down and decided who I thought I wanted involved in it...who would give us a broad base across the county in terms of experience and know-how.
Cassidy couldn't refuse former team-mate Kieran McKeever (Pic: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)
M McM: I heard the committee was meeting pretty much every week.
DC: We met at the beginning of March, through zoom. Philip (Kerr) went out to Australia to visit his son and getting back wasn't as simple as it was with Covid, so he planned to stay there and visit the professional AFL clubs.
He was 'zooming in' at half six in the morning for our meetings in the evening. We took a week off at the 12th (July) and another at the end of September...outside of that, our committee has met every week.
M McM: At what point did you link in with Dublin and Kerry?
DC: We had to go and talk to people who have been very successful for a long period of time. Talking to that level of expertise and being open minded and not coming to a position where you think you know it all, because clearly we don't, otherwise our county teams would be at the top end of the championship.
It's like anything, if it is a business where you are doing some type of project or whether it is this (project), you are going to talk to people who are at the cutting end of it year in and year out and find out what they are doing, what makes them different and what makes them better.
We have the multiple minutes of these meetings where we met Ger (O’Connor – Dublin Games Development Manager), Stephen O’Shaughnessy (Dublin Football Development Officer) and Terence Houlihan (Kerry Coaching Officer). We met with John Costello (Dublin GAA CEO) in Bellaghy for an hour at a Club Derry event.
From that, I have been back and forward regularly, getting clarification on detail from those individuals from those meetings, particularly Ger and Terence.
- ALSO READ - Main elements of Derry's proposed coaching plan. CLICK HERE...
M McM: I see it is listed as a five-year plan.
DC: It is the minimum of five-years. There is no point in saying you are going to achieve the outcomes that you want at the top end of it in the five years, but we would be very disappointed if the bulk of it isn't implemented and up and running properly in that period, I would be quietly confident that would be the case.
M McM: The main points that jump out are the introduction of Games Promotions Officers (GPOs) and bringing in regional teams to the championship.
DC: There are two elements to this that are important and I must emphasise.
Firstly, the strategy is designed to make the clubs stronger – that's at the heart of it. Stephen and Kieran have a clear vision of wanting our clubs and our communities to know that the county board sees them as partners and their role is to support clubs and communities. Clubs are really central to this document, absolutely...from senior right down to junior.
The second part of it, we as a committee feel it is the future. We have to recognise the research we have put into this, the proposals we put forward are going to bring the standard of our senior, intermediate and junior clubs forward, which will ultimately impact the county teams. At it's core, it is designed to be very club oriented and that's the way we want it to be.
M McM: Is that one of the elements clear from chatting to the other counties?
DC: This is the pathway a number of the other counties will be going down, with the GPOs. Club Dublin have illustrated how successful it has been for them. The expertise those GPOs have behind them, the knowledge and skills they have is driven right down into the grass roots to ensure that coaching models are of the highest standard, to enable the clubs to make progress.
This is about the future, if it is not embraced, people will look back in a number of years and a number of other counties will be down the road with this model and we'll be further behind. For once we are ahead of the game, potentially.
Everybody will have a perspective, and it's right that they have. People will reference that in club football, Derry do brilliantly at senior level. One club team doesn't mean your club structure is strong. It just means that one club has put in a massive shift to get it right.
If you go back to the 1991 to 2003 era. At that time, we had a really good county team for that length of time. The reason being, we didn't have one team dominating. Lavey won an All-Ireland (1991), Bellaghy got to a final four years later, followed by Dungiven getting to an All-Ireland semi-final (1997), then Ballinderry won it in 2002 and Loup then came along and won Ulster.
In the middle of that, Swatragh came along in 1998 to beat Dungiven who were Ulster champions, you have Ballinascreen who were regularly in county finals against Bellaghy and Lavey, that would be unheard of now, with so many clubs pushing. So you can't say the club scene is healthy now.
Ballinderry captain Adrian McGuckin lifts the Andy Merrigan Cup in 2002, during an era when Damian Cassidy felt Derry clubs impacted on county success (Pic: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)
M McM: Of the 26 players on the match-day panel for the Armagh championship game, 12 came from Glen and Slaughtneil.
DC: Yeah, that's my point. Nine or ten players who played against Armagh were from a four-mile radius, so what have the rest of us been doing for the last ten years. Those are two important points (primary school coaching and getting coaching stronger in clubs), as regards the future and where the future of coaching is going.
My understanding is that evidence has been gathered that suggests Donegal have the highest number of qualified coaches in Ulster and they have been going for three (Ulster senior titles) in a row. Derry are languishing at the bottom end in terms of number of qualified coaches.
M McM: Are you targeting one GPO per club, or can clubs pool together? How much will it cost a club?
DC: If it is diluted any more than two clubs, the impact that we want a club to get over a period of time will not be achieved. Some clubs may feel they don't have the population, so they might partner with another club. The county board will make the 50 percent contribution, but the clubs will match that with 25 percent each if it is two clubs, so the time is portioned out.
The salary hasn't been agreed yet. These conversations are still ongoing. There is an understanding that it has to be pitched a level that will ensure continuity and sustainability. There is no point in having a coach there for a year or two, they need to be able to stay there to ensure consistency and continuity.
The other element of it is that an audit will be carried out within the club, with the GPO involved, to see where the strengths are and identify areas that need straightening. That will start formulating the coaching plan for that club going forward for next the 12 months. Every club will be different, if you take a club that has hurling, football and camogie. How they work it out, in terms of portioning it, that's up to the club as they will know their needs. There is a big emphasis on the feeder primary schools in your locality, to get those kids to your club. The emphasis is on the coaches in your club being up-skilled regularly through the coaching model. We are also going to use analysis technology to ensure both group and individual performance is improved, not just at adult level but fed down to the age groups where there can be big gains, by using the technology in the individual coaching.
M McM: Was there any concern from clubs about the coaching coming at a cost?
DC: We are not there to change people's ideology. But you have to look at other counties and ask 'what are they doing that is different'. We have a choice. We can either say we are not going to do anything differently, keep doing what we are doing and we'll get the same result...or we can say 'we've a choice here' and we have to make a shift towards what is successful and for once let's get ahead of the game instead of chasing it and see where it takes us to.
Donegal have all their qualified coaches and have been ahead of the game, Tyrone have been there for a long time now. We have been chasing them for a long time, nothing is going to change unless clubs recognise it and make a change to improve it. This is a strategy put forward to help clubs to do that, we are going through the consultation process now of finding out if this is sufficient enough for them to help them produce better players. It is a partnership between the county board and clubs.
Outside of Bobby (Farren), who is the Coaching Officer, the committee are not county board people. I have no ambition to be involved in an administrative role on the county board. Our only interest is seeing clubs improve and when they go out of Derry into Ulster, in all grades, getting to the latter end of the championship. The KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) will demonstrate the progress.
It is a massive opportunity if people embrace it in the spirit it is designed for. We have had a significantly high turnout at our meetings with clubs, and from county board sources I am led to believe this wouldn't always be the case, so interest is high.
David Clifford celebrates East Kerry's win over Dr Croke's in the 2019 Kerry senior final. Under Derry's new coaching proposals, district teams will take part in the Derry senior championship
(Pic: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)
M McM: I see another part of the plan is bringing four district teams into the senior championship.
DC: Apart from the districts, there is the separation of the leagues and the championship. There is a proposal where you could be relegated to Division 2, but you are still playing in the senior championship. You can only be promoted or relegated via the championship you are playing in. It will be done on a round robin basis and at the minute there is a proposal for four districts. We have done a draft of what we think a district would look like and that will include senior clubs, so if they are relegated out of the championship, everybody knows what district they will represent.
To promote that culture, there is a proposal at U17 'A' championship level that districts will play here and have a pathway of a higher exposure of games at a younger age. It underpins the district concept and this is where Kerry have been very strong at, in terms of having a bigger representation in terms of the county team from intermediate and junior players.
It is about getting to play more games at a higher level, for players from junior and intermediate clubs.The top two in each group go into the senior section quarter-finals, the bottom club team in each group will go into the relegation semi-finals and final, with the loser relegated to intermediate. Same in intermediate to junior....
If I am a 19 year-old coming through who has potential for playing football at a higher level...Chris Collins would've been an example of this. He was playing with Derry minors, Ireland U17s, coming out of the Convent (St Mary's Magherafelt) MacRory team and was a top player at that age. His game never developed significantly because he was at junior level (with Ogra Colmcille) for his entire career. He would've been helped on the pathway with football at a higher level at the same time, like the Kerry district team model which has proven to be successful.
This (district teams) provides a pathway for that 19 year old to be playing at a higher level. By the time he becomes 23, he could become a senior county player potentially and improve his junior club team.
M McM: How do you see the U17, U18.5 and U20 championship working out?
DC: We are confident there will be a full uptake in the U18.5, but the U20 may be more difficult. If you are a club with less numbers and you have a player coming through at 18, he might be brought into the senior team a lot quicker than Slaughtneil, Glen or Magherafelt, who are the cutting end of that championship already, or at same at intermediate (level).
The U20, we think will be potentially an invitational competition and estimate 10 to 12 clubs taking up that invitation. It will be pitched at players in clubs not making their senior team, so there is a progression for them.
In a club where a guy has gone straight into senior football, he is getting plenty of football, we are recommending he doesn't play in the bulk of those league games.
Let's concentrate on the lads who are not getting football on your senior team, to create an environment for that player to develop. Then in the (U20) championship, you can put out your full team, by all means.
M McM: Is there a long-term plan in there to produce a greater return of midfielders or scoring forwards at county level?
DC: It's not about cherry picking players, it is about everyone in Go-Games being involved in small sided games, getting on the ball and at the younger ages having it at 5-a-side.
This is what we have been researching in top clubs and it is the best practice internationally in other sports when they develop their young players so their skill and decision making is getting the best chance to develop.
Going back to your point about producing more midfielders and forwards, there is a silent sideline line rule proposed where it is encouraging you to make your own decision and not spend the match listening to instruction from parents and coaches all the time. It gives the opportunity to develop flair, an environment to think for yourself, problem solve and promote the ability to communicate with other players, this is evident from international examples. It will produce better players in the long term, with flair not being eroded out of you by being instructed what to do all times. This (change to small sided games) has been embedded in Dublin and Kerry already.
All these factors will create an environment where you get coached during the week and when you come to a match, we want you to be able to play and think for yourself.
When I was involved with Clonoe in 2008, one of the things that stood out was the amount of players who were significant communicators, it turned out five of them were playing Irish League soccer.
It is almost like having a coach out in the middle of the pitch, identifying problems and fixing these during a game. These are the type of players you want to be producing in the long-term – communicators and problem solvers during matches.
M McM: What is achievable here? Is it about catching the consistently strong counties in Ulster, or is it the targets you have identified in your plan?
DC: County level will look after itself, if we have more clubs producing better players. This (plan) is aimed at the clubs at senior, with (also) a massive emphasis on intermediate and junior players and clubs. Our performance at junior has been abysmal, in terms of Ulster club championship. Our intermediate performance is slightly better but not great and trailing behind Tyrone significantly.
This is designed to help those clubs to produce better players and we know the clubs ultimately have to do the bulk of the work here, there are no shortcuts. I would love to have more competition at intermediate and junior, imagine the swell of players you would have. That would be the ultimate outcome and success in all of this.
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