It’s no great secret really. A quick glance at the many minor team photos bears it out. Over the years countless new quick-fix ideas have been offered up and some have even been implimented, but with little in terms of success.
Simply put, underage players in this county are at a significant disadvantage in terms of sheer physical bulk and power compared to their counterparts in other counties. It’s been that way for a number of years now.
There’s no one better placed to comment and profer an opinion of note on this than current Louth minor manager Thomas MacNamee. He’s been at the head of the minor team for several years now.
He has also seen how other counties have changed the way they approach the development of the physicality of young players.
Louth need to take heed if they are to progress, not just at minor level now, but at senior level in the future according to the County’s minor manager.
“It really is no secret nowadays. It’s all about how to prepare properly”, explains MacNamee, “this year we’ve given all the lads food diaries that they have to fill in every day.
“Proper nutrition is vital. Louth teams at underage level have been lighter than other counties. We have a monitoring system in place with the diaries so we can see exactly what lads are eating. If you get the nutirition right you can build on that. It helps with injury prevention and the general well being of the lads. Everything benefits from a proper diet.”
MacNamee is, of course, looking at the laong term here, but he knows that a more pressing concern is on the horizon on Wednesday night down in Wexford.
Close run thing
Having scared the living daylights out of the current All-Ireland Champions Dublin in Drogheda three weeks ago (and only just being pipped by two points after extra time), the Louth minor team have a chance via the back door to progress further in the Leinster Championship and maybe improve upon their run to the semi final in 2011.
But Wexford are another tough proposition according to the Louth boss.
“By all accounts they only narrowly lost out to Westmeath in the first round. Westmeath managed to get a goal and a few points near the end to beat them. And that’s a Westmeath team managed by Tommy Carr, so Wexford will be another tough game.”
Such is the short window for minor inter-county football, in terms of games played, that it all really comes down to possibly one or maybe two games to define the entire course of a season.
This year MacNamee used the Leinster League and to a certain extent the first round match against the Dubs to experiment and try new things out. It all means that Wexford tomorrow night is the pivot upon which 2013 could be defined for the Louth minor team.
“Of course it’s a pressure situation”, nods MacNamee, “we’re away from home, it’s also a long trip on a school night and the safety net of the back door is now gone. Also if we lose on Wednesday, for some of these lads it could be two or three years before they are involved in a county set up at this level”, adds the Louth boss.
As he drifts back to talk of the proper attitude and preparation, one figure that MacNamee is proud to point to as a shining light is current Louth senior full forward Ciaran Byrne.
“Ciaran has really stepped up. But he took to the whole preparation and nutrition thing like a duck to water. He wouldn’t touch a sweet. It’s a huge sacrifice and it’s not for everyone. But Ciaran new he wanted to play at the highest possible level and that’s why he applied himself so readily.”
Byrne is a great example, but MacNamee is well aware that the family tradition he comes from helped enormously in his case (his brother and father have both represented Louth at senior level). What about those that aren’t from the same traditional background?
“You can’t just draw someone in to this way of thinking”, explains McNamee, “but if you can pass on the knowledge and make them see the overall benefits then it can make it easier.”
Before the start of the season MacNamee took the squad to see Dave Cranny in DkIT. Cranny works within the area of sports leadership and science. It was an eye opener in terms of learning what level the team was at.
“What Dave did was show us the areas we can improve upon and get the individual lads to a certain base line that we could work on from.”
Along with Cranny the team has also worked closely with nutrition specialist Susan Kenny. What struck McNamee most about the work with Kenny was the effect a good diet has on a young persons mental health and vice versa.
“It’s amazing how much it can improve that area as well. It you look at the league tables in terms of education on a national level, Louth schools are near the bottom end. Cork is usually at the top.”
His passion for changing the way people approach this area is clear. However he knows he will not be at the helm of the minor team for much longer, he only hopes that the knowledge he has gained will not be lost by whomever replaces him.
“Look, another man might come in and his focus will be on another area of the game and that could happen, but I hope that there will be a sea change within the county on this matter.”
In the meantime Wexford await and a season still hangs in the balance.