Well over a week has passed since Down were knocked out of the Championship and it ended in the same way that it started with another disappointing defeat.
This time it was at the hands of Longford who played in Division 3 of the National League. Last year it was to Wexford who were a Division 4 team. I wasn’t at the match because I had to do taxi for my younger brother Charlie, but we were listening to it on the radio and by all accounts Longford were the better team for the majority of the game and deserving winners at the end.
For all of this year it has been men against boys and Down are lagging behind in the physical stakes which could be why they are struggling in the second half against teams who are stronger and fitter than themselves.
This was the second year in a row in which Down didn’t even make it to July. Where does this leave Down football as a whole? Most would agree that it leaves them in a pretty dire place and while I am reluctant to retire anyone, I do think there will be further losses in personnel going into 2017.
The current group of players and management have taken more than their fair share of criticism this year and while you can’t argue with results, I don’t believe that they should be blamed for the state that Down football now finds itself in.
The problems run far deeper than just the senior team, Down u21s were on the wrong side of a hammering by Armagh and the Minor team were also beaten in the 1st round of the Championship. But instead of talking about the problem and highlighting all that is wrong now is the opportunity to make it better and put structures in place to ensure that Down are competing in the years to come.
A gentleman in work held the position of youth officer in his club in Dublin about 10 years ago and while I regularly have to try and drown out his stories of how brilliant Dublin are, I do listen upon occasion.
It isn’t that long ago when Dublin were struggling to win a Leinster championship and Sam Maguire was a distant dream but Paul informed me that while this was happening the Dublin County Board put together a development plan where their aim was that in the future Dublin would win an All Ireland at least every three years.
That was 10 years ago and look at where they are now, arguably one of the greatest Dublin teams of all time. The Dublin County Board put the structures in place that involved clubs, schools and underage development squads but the most important thing was that all those separate entities bought into what they were trying to implement.
It is all well and good having the structures and setting up the development squads but having the right people over these squads is crucial. I was very lucky when I was growing up that I had excellent managers and coaches in my club which helped me develop the skills that I needed but how many underage “stars” never make it to play senior club never mind senior intercounty.
Development squads at different ages should have key goals and targets set which will give them the opportunity to succeed and the experience of what it takes to succeed as well. Sometimes I think that players with ability are overlooked at underage because they might not be developed physically and those who are bigger tend to be the star players but development squads should be about identifying players who have the potential to succeed in the future.
Exposing these players to the best coaching, nutritional and lifestyle advice from a young age will only help them in all aspects of life and not just sport. The best players are those who will listen and always want to learn, even watching some of the Down footballers now there is no doubting their ability but how many of them make the same mistakes over and over again?
Implementing a development plan that links development squads to primary schools, secondary schools and clubs will make the county stronger as a whole. Down have traditionally had successful schools with St Mark’s, St Colman’s, St Malachy’s and the Abbey winning National Schools titles in previous years.
Schools represent a critical part in making a county successful and employing teachers with a sporting background who are able to manage or coach teams is a bonus.
Setting the blueprint of how a county plays their football should be done from underage upwards all with the sole aim of making the senior team successful.
Down are at rock bottom now, their three main footballing teams at senior, u21 and minor haven’t won a championship game. Now is the time for action and if they don’t start to put plans in place for a successful future then they will soon find themselves plying their trade in Division four in two years.