I spent last weekend completely engrossed in sport, much to the chagrin of certain loved ones.
It began on Saturday morning/afternoon when I attended a soccer coaching workshop in Lecarrow. Sligo man and FAI coach Niall Harrison was our tutor and it was thoroughly enjoyable and informative.
This was followed by a visit to Shiven Rovers Football Club where the Mid Western Girls League were preparing to embark on another Gaynor Cup adventure in Limerick.
For those of you who don’t know, the Gaynor Cup is the girls’ equivalent to the Kennedy Cup in underage soccer. It’s a prestigious tournament featuring soccer leagues from across Ireland.
Again it was interesting to watch fellow coaches in action particularly as the session was so well organised.
On Sunday I caught up on the football and hurling championships before watching Ireland play Austria in the World Cup qualifier.
Martin O’Neill and his team have come in for some heavy criticism due to their first half performance, and rightly so.
Not playing Wes Hoolahan is the equivalent of the Welsh not playing Gareth Bale. He may be our most talented player but his involvement at international level has been restricted by mediocrity and by managers too intent on playing it safe.
How many times have we seen ‘good’ international teams come to Dublin, be put under pressure and completely wilt? Many teams at that level struggle when put on the back foot and immersed in a cauldron of noise and this was evident again last Sunday.
Anyway, this story has a point and it’s this: Both the FAI workshop and Gaynor Cup training on Saturday featured coaches who encouraged football. Niall Harrison described a backwards pass as “the last pass” a player in possession should play, instead he encouraged players to get their heads up and look forward when in possession.
So why then do our international players play so negatively? I put it down to confidence and self-belief. Players like Wes Hoolahan, James McClean and Robbie Brady have it, whereas others don’t. It comes from proper coaching at grassroots level and instilling confidence in young players. Players are like human sponges from ages 6 to 13 and they know when a coach is uneasy about taking risks.
Therefore it was good to spend Saturday with Niall Harrison and Eamon Boyle and his coaches as they encouraged their players to take chances and play football. Hopefully the next generation of Wes Hoolahans and Stephanie Roches is not too far away.